Anemia is a problem with the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. A person with anemia has either too few oxygen-carrying red blood cells or not enough hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Anemia results when, for any number of reasons, the bone marrow makes defective red blood cells or not enough normal ones, or if red blood cells are destroyed before they have completed their job. There are several forms of anemia, but the most common type is caused by a lack of iron -- an important component of the hemoglobin in red blood cells.

The majority of anemia cases are caused by nutritional deficiencies. Several alternative therapies offer ways to boost the body's use of nutrients.

Nutritional Therapy for Anemia

Three types of anemia are caused by a lack of one of three nutrients -- iron, folate, or vitamin B12. The deficiency can result from:

  • a lack of the nutrient in the diet
  • an inability to absorb that nutrient (Certain hereditary conditions and deficiencies of other nutrients can keep the body from absorbing iron, folate, or vitamin B12, regardless of the amount present in the diet. Alcoholism can prevent proper absorption of folate in particular.)
  • an excessive loss of that nutrient (For women, heavy blood loss during menstruation or pregnancy can lead to problems with iron-deficiency anemia.)

Nutritional therapy offers several ways to satisfy the body's need for these nutrients. (Of course, any underlying causes of the anemia need to be treated before these guidelines can be helpful.) Increasing your intake of iron, folate, and vitamin B12 can be accomplished with supplements, but including more whole foods rich in these nutrients in your diet is generally a more healthful idea for mild cases.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • liver
  • dried beans (especially kidney, garbanzo, and pinto)
  • prunes
  • raisins
  • dried apricots

Vitamin C, although not a direct factor in the development of anemia, helps the body absorb iron, so foods high in this vitamin (including citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet peppers) should accompany meals with iron-rich foods. On the other hand, certain foods limit the absorption of iron. Foods on this list include black tea, coffee, dairy products consumed in large amounts, and wheat bran.

Hydrochloric acid, normally produced by the stomach, is needed for the body to use iron and may be low in some people. Supplementation with hydrochloric acid at mealtimes may be helpful for people with this problem. Another helpful supplement can be vitamin E.

Some whole foods that are good dietary sources of folate, or folic acid, include:

  • dried beans
  • dark-green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale)
  • asparagus
  • oranges

Common food sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • tuna
  • nutritional yeast
  • dairy products
  • beef
  • eggs
  • liver

Fortified cereals and less-known items such as some seaweed varieties, spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green algae are other vegetarian sources. People who cannot adequately absorb vitamin B12 require muscle injections.

Herbal Medicines for Anemia

Herbs can help the body maximize the use of the nutrients in food and provide some useful nutrients on their own as well.

The group of herbs known as bitters signal the stomach to produce more digestive juices to help in the breakdown process. The herbs' bitter taste on the tongue is probably responsible for sending these messages to the brain and stomach. Gentian root and wormwood are two examples of bitters.

Several herbs are rich in iron and other minerals and vitamins. For example, the leaves and stalks of stinging nettle pack both iron and vitamin C. Dandelion root is also helpful. Certain Chinese herbs such as dong quai and rehmannia are also used to build the blood.

Homeopathy for Anemia

Homeopathic treatment can ease some of the symptoms of anemia and stimulate the body to use certain nutrients from food more efficiently. Homeopathy uses highly diluted doses of natural substances that would produce the symptoms of anemia if given in full strength to a healthy person. A classical homeopath tailors a remedy for a patient by studying the anemia symptoms and the general state of physical and emotional health. Every patient receives an individualized remedy. The practitioner considers certain anemia characteristics, including:

  • Is menstruation normal?
  • How does the complexion appear?
  • Does constipation, poor digestion, or any other symptom accompany the common anemia symptoms?

The typical remedies for anemia are calcarea phosphoricum, china officinalis, ferrum metallicum, and natrum muriaticum. Biochemic tissue (mineral) salts -- calcarea phosphoricum and ferrum phosphoricum -- may also be used.

Other Anemia Therapies

  • Acupressure for Anemia -- Pressure applied to specific points, such as along the liver and kidney meridians, can stimulate blood circulation and the production of energy, or qi.
  • Detoxification, Fasting, and Colon Therapy for Anemia -- Fasting may be helpful in a few cases to encourage better nutrient absorption.
  • Hydrotherapy for Anemia -- Various treatments can improve circulation.

For more information on anemia and alternative medicine, see: