Anemia – symptoms, causes and recommendations

anemia causes and recommendations

Anemia is not a disease, but rather a symptom of various other health problems.

Anemia can be temporary or long term and it can range from mild to severe. Millions of people suffer from anemia. Anemia is characterised by a reduction in either the number of red blood cells, or the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells.

Hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues and in turn transports carbon dioxide from your organs and tissues back to your lungs.


Anemia reduces the amount of oxygen available to the cells of the body. As a result, people may have less energy. Normal muscular activity and cell building and repair are also impaired. When the brain lacks oxygen, it may result in dizziness and mental capabilities may be less sharp.

Anemia linked to other health problems

Anemia is sometimes the first detectable sign of arthritis, infection or certain illnesses, including cancer. Drug use, hormonal disorders, chronic inflammation, surgery, infections, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, excessive menstrual bleeding, liver damage, thyroid disorders, bone marrow disease, rheumatoid arthritis and a diet lacking in iron, folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 can all cause anemia.

Iron deficiency

An iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. As iron is used to make hemoglobin, a lack of iron results in the impaired formation of red blood cells.

Iron-deficiency anemia may be the result of insufficient iron intake and / or absorption, or by significant blood loss. Excessive anti-inflammatory medication, e.g. aspirin or ibuprofen, particularly in elderly people, may cause internal bleeding through irritation of the digestive tract.

Developing anemia

Appetite loss may be one of the first signs of developing anemia. Constipation, headaches, irritability and difficulty in concentration may be other symptoms.

Established anemia

Established anemia may include symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, depression, dizziness, paleness, pale and brittle nails, pale lips and eyelids, soreness in the mouth, the cessation of menstruation and a loss of libido.


Anemia should always be investigated and the cause determined. Depending on the cause of anemia, your medical practitioner is always best equipped to treat you and to give advice.

The following nutrients, herbs and dietary guidelines may also be of great help to people suffering from anemia. It is essential to discuss this with your medical practitioner though.

Nutritional supplements

anaemia supplements

Warning: It is important not to take iron supplements if an iron deficiency has not been confirmed by a blood test. Excess iron can lead to damage to the heart, liver, pancreas, immune cell activity and has also been linked to cancer. Only use iron supplements under the supervision of a medical practitioner.


Alfalfa (lucern), cherry, dandelion, grape skins, red raspberry and nettle may be effective herbal supplements in the treatment of iron-deficiency anemia.

Dietary recommendations

  • Include iron-rich foods in your diet, for example kidney beans, liver, blackstrap molasses, rice bran, raw or cooked beet greens (not the beets), lentils, dried peaches and apricots, prune juice, dates, lean meat, cooked spinach and fresh peas.
  • Eat foods high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. This could include guavas, sweet red and green peppers, tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, papaya, broccoli, pineapple, potato, brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, mango, cauliflower, etc.
  • Consume at least 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses daily – it is a good source of iron and essential B vitamins.
  • Limit or omit foods containing oxalic acid, as it interferes with iron absorption. Oxalic acid reach food include almonds, cashews, chocolate, cocoa, kale, soda, sorrel, spinach and most nuts and beans.
  • Avoid beer, sweets, diary products, ice cream and soft drinks, as it contains additives that interfere with iron absorption.
  • Avoid coffee (which contains polyphenols) and tea (which contains tannins), as these ingredients also interfere with iron absorption.
  • Do not take antacids, calcium, Vitamin E or zinc supplements at the same time as iron supplements, as it can interfere with iron absorption.

By Elmarie Jensen


Phyllis, A & Balch, JF. 2000. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.

The Content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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