From A to E: How Vitamins Combat Anaemia

Let’s address the elephant in the room, iron deficiency. A lack of iron is the leading underlying cause of anaemia as this mineral is crucial for cells to function in the body (Silverberg, 2012). Iron deficiency is also a huge issue with scientists estimating that >20% of women worldwide experience this micronutrient deficiency at some point during their reproductive lives (Percy et al., 2017).

But iron is not the whole story when it comes to anaemia, vitamins A, B12, C and E, folic acid and riboflavin all have a role in preventing and controlling anaemia (Fishman et al., 2000).

Anaemia is a very serious issue especially in South Africa. The SANHANES survey found that the prevalence of anaemia in South Africa is 44% in children under 5yrs, 22% in adult women, and 12.2% in adult men (Visser, & Herselman, 2013). We need to find holistic solutions that look beyond the surface issue and treat the whole problem, vitamins are an important part of that (Visser, & Herselman, 2013).

What Is Anaemia?

Anaemia is a health condition that happens when a person’s blood has a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells or ‘hemoglobin’ (Silverberg, 2012). Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues (Silverberg, 2012).

This lack of oxygen results in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath, among others (WHO, 2023).

The optimal amount of haemoglobin you need in your body changes based on age, gender, how high above sea level they live, their smoking habits or pregnancy status (WHO, 2023).

Types Of Anaemia (Silverberg, 2012)

Iron deficiency anaemia:

This is the most common type of anaemia. It is caused by a lack of iron in the body, which is needed to make haemoglobin.

Vitamin deficiency anaemia:

This type of anaemia is caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or folate, which are also needed to make haemoglobin.

Anaemia of inflammation:

This type of anaemia starts when chronic diseases, such as infections, cancer, or autoimmune disorders, interfere with the production of red blood cells.

Aplastic anaemia:

This is a rare and serious type of anaemia that happens when the bone marrow fails to produce enough blood cells.

Hemolytic anaemia:

This type of anaemia occurs when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced.

Sickle cell anaemia:

This is an inherited type of anaemia that affects people with African, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern family. It is caused by a genetic mutation that makes haemoglobin become abnormal sickle-shaped red blood cells that can block blood vessels and can damage organs.

Thalassemia:

This is another inherited type of anaemia that affects people of Mediterranean, Asian, or African descent. It is caused by a genetic mutation that lowers the creation of haemoglobin or causes abnormal haemoglobin.

Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria:

This is a rare and life-threatening type of anaemia that happens when the immune system attacks and destroys red blood cells.

Which Vitamins Impact Anaemia?

Besides iron, there are other nutrients that are important for making healthy blood cells. These nutrients are often deficient together rather than alone (Fishman et al., 2000).

Certain vitamins like vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 are necessary for the normal production of red blood cells (Fishman et al., 2000).

They help in creating new and healthy red blood cells. On the other hand, vitamins C and E protect mature red blood cells from damage caused by harmful substances called free radicals (Fishman et al., 2000).

Some vitamins, like riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin C, can also help prevent anaemia by improving the absorption of iron in the intestines or by releasing stored iron in the body (Fishman et al., 2000).

How Do Vitamins Impact Anaemia?

Overall, these vitamins have important roles in supporting the production of red blood cells, helping with iron absorption, and protecting red blood cells.

Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to different types of anaemia, including megaloblastic anaemia.

Vitamin A:

Helps move iron from storage in the body and supports the development of red blood cells.

Folic acid and vitamin B12:

These vitamins are essential for making DNA and red blood cells. Without enough of these vitamins, a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia can occur, where red blood cells are larger and not fully developed.

Vitamin C:

Helps the body absorb iron from plant-based foods that contain a type of iron called non-heme iron. It converts it into a form that the body can use effectively.

Vitamin E:

It plays a role in protecting red blood cells from being destroyed too early. Research has also found that not having enough folic acid or vitamin B12 can cause megaloblastic anemia, where red blood cells become large and immature.

Vitamin C:

This vitamin is known for its ability to enhance the absorption of iron by converting it into a form that the body can use better. The impact of riboflavin on the utilization of iron and folic acid has also been better understood.

Why Does Anaemia Need To Be Prevented Or Treated?

Anaemia needs to be prevented or treated because it can have serious effects on the body and health. Here’s why it’s important:

Oxygen Delivery:

Anaemia means there aren’t enough red blood cells or haemoglobin to carry oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues. This can make you feel tired, weak, and affect your physical abilities.

Low Energy:

Anaemia can make you feel constantly tired and lacking in energy. This low energy can make it difficult to do daily activities and enjoy life.

Thinking and Memory:

Not getting enough oxygen to the brain due to anaemia can affect your ability to think clearly, remember things, and solve problems.

Weakened Immune System:

Some types of anaemia can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections and recover from illnesses.

Growth and Development:

Anaemia in children can hinder their growth and development, both physically and mentally.

Pregnancy Complications:

Anaemia during pregnancy can cause problems for both the mother and the baby, like premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental issues.

Strain on the Heart:

Severe or long-lasting anaemia can strain the heart because it has to work harder to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to heart problems and make existing heart conditions worse.

Overall Health and Well-being:

Anaemia can have a big impact on your overall health, vitality, and quality of life. By preventing or treating anaemia, you can improve how you feel and reduce the risk of complications.

It’s important to find out what’s causing your anaemia and get the right treatment and support. If you think you might have anaemia, or it runs in your family, it’s important to get tested often to pick up and monitor the issue.

Worried You Might Have Anaemia?

Epicentre provides comprehensive anaemia testing at our Walk-In Lab. Why wait? Testing is easy, safe and affordable.

Learn More About Our Walk-In Lab

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