Aplastic Anemia and MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndromes) are diseases of the bone marrow, and are a more severe form of anemia. Last month, we provided an overview of lung cancer. Here again, we have the opportunity to review a condition more broadly, in order to understand why it may be important to you.
What is Anemia?
Anemia is a sign that a disease process is underway or in place; it is not a disease itself.
Red blood cells (rbc’s) are produced in the bone marrow, in response to the levels of the hormone erythropoietin, produced in the kidneys. Hemoglobin is part of the rbc, and has oxygen bound to it, delivering the oxygen to the cells for all cellular activity.
Who is Anemic?
People who don’t have enough hemoglobin are anemic.
- Women with irregular or heavy menses
- Women with uterine fibroids
- Women who are pregnant
- People with eating disorders
- People with infectious diseases (ex: HIV, Hep B or C) or autoimmune diseases (ex: Lupus, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis)
- Substance abusers: alcohol and drugs
- Palpitations and/or faster heart rate: the chemo-receptors located in the neck sense how much oxygen is available and the heart beats faster to deliver more oxygen to the cells
- Dizziness, especially when getting up from laying down or sitting
- Shortness of breath: oxygen supply does not meet demand
- A constellation of many non-specific complaints such as headache, poor concentration, ringing in the ears, vague abdominal discomfort above the naval area, poor appetite resulting in weight loss, nausea, diarrhea or constipation
- Heat or cold intolerance
Most anemias are corrected with supplementation and through diet, so your best bet is prevention. There are three major types of anemia: microcytic, macrocytic, and normochromic/normocytic, which run the spectrum of malignancies, genetic and immunological disorders, and mechanical injury.
Anemia by Category:
- Iron-deficiency anemia from chronic disease (autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, malignancies)
- Thalassemia: genetic origin
- Sideroblastic: genetic, lifestyle (ex: alcoholic), or side effects of cancer therapies
- B12 deficiency: the body stores B12 for three years, so diet is not the cause — rather, there is a decreased production of intrinsic factor in the digestive tract
- Folate deficiency: the body stores folate for three months, so diet is the cause
- Liver disease (ex: alcoholics with poor diet)
Normochromic and Normocytic Anemies
- Hemolytic anemias: a diverse group including genetic (ex: sickle cell anemia), immunologic (ex: ulcerative colitis), and mechanical injury derived
- Aplastic anemia: usually from an unknown cause but also linked to exposures to drug therapies that are toxic to the cells
- Renal failure: kidneys stop producing erythropoietin
The M.D.’s first concern with the finding of anemia is that it indicates there may be one of these underlying disease processes underway, and will order tests to rule them out.
Here’s another place where the paradigms of medical western and eastern overlap to create integrative medicine: whatever the diagnosis, the intake of adequate, quality nutrition plays a major role in ensuring a steady supply of hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that gives red blood cells their red color. It has been shown through rigorous research that genetic predispositions are not an absolute in determining disease: lifestyle choices, including environment, can influence health status outcomes.
What to Eat
Proteins in general are good for increasing the amount of hemoglobin in the body, with eggs, tofu, and organ meats leading the pack. Good food sources of iron are red beets, spinach, parsley, broccoli, cabbage, artichokes, whole wheat, brown rice, fenugreek, cherries, figs, dates, clams, and shrimp.
Note: Don’t forget to take your vitamin C to help with iron absorption, or eat foods rich in vitamin C. And if you love spinach and take a calcium supplement, take the calcium in the morning, because spinach contains oxalic acid, which blocks calcium absorption.
There are several types of anemia, but iron-deficiency anemia is by far the most common.
You can avoid becoming anemic by eating foods rich in iron, particularly if you fall into one of the at-risk groups.
Poor quality of blood — or “blood deficiency” — is actually a very big deal in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM). It has long been recognized as a cause of imbalance in the body. While acupuncture excels at moving blood and stimulating its production, a quicker result can be achieved by taking an herbal formula, too.
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