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:
- dried beans (especially kidney, garbanzo, and pinto)
- 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)
Common food sources of vitamin B12 include:
- nutritional yeast
- dairy products
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.