Anaemia and its dietary management

Definition of anaemia

According to, anaemia is a decrease in number of red blood cells (RBCs) or less than the normal quantity of haemoglobin in the blood. Anaemia may also be diagnosed where there is decreased oxygen-binding ability of each haemoglobin molecule due to deformity or lack in numerical development as in some other types of haemoglobin deficiency. Because haemoglobin (found inside RBCs) normally carries oxygen from the lungs to the capillaries, anaemia leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in organs. Since all human cells depend on oxygen for survival, varying degrees of anaemia can have a wide range of clinical consequences.

Anaemia is the most common disorder of the blood. The several kinds of anaemia are produced by a variety of underlying causes. It can be classified in a variety of ways, based on the morphology of RBCs, underlying etiologic mechanisms, and discernible clinical spectra, to mention a few. The three main classes include excessive blood loss (acutely such as a haemorrhage or chronically through low-volume loss), excessive blood cell destruction (haemolysis) or deficient red blood cell production (ineffective haematopoiesis).

Types of anaemia

Anaemia is classified into seven (7) major types in the work of Natasha  and Yasmin (2013) which are iron deficiency anaemia, thalassaemia, aplastic anaemia, haemolytic anaemia, sickle cell anaemia, pernicious anaemia and fanconi anaemia.

Among the seven types of anaemia, only two – iron deficiency anaemia and pernicious anaemia are directly attributed to nutritional disorder (Sinha, et al, 1998) which is the scope of this work.

Iron deficiency anaemia

This is the most common form of anaemia. It is usually due to chronic blood loss caused by excessive menstruation. Increased demands for iron, such as foetal growth in pregnancy, and children undergoing rapid growth spurts in infancy and adolescence, can also cause iron deficiency anaemia.

Pernicious anaemia

Pernicious anaemia is a condition in which the body can’t make enough healthy red blood cells because it doesn’t have enough vitamin B12 (a nutrient found in certain foods). People who have pernicious anaemia can’t absorb enough vitamin B12 due to a lack of intrinsic factor (a protein made in the stomach). However, other conditions and factors can also cause vitamin B12 deficiency.

Causes of anaemia

Causes iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency occurs when the rate of loss or use of iron is more than its rate of absorption and use. The reasons for this are

  • Chronic blood loss: Most commonly due to excessive menstruation or bleeding into or from the gut as a result of a peptic ulcer, gastritis, haemorrhoids or in children, worm infestation.
  • Increased use of iron: In pregnancy, due to the growth of the foetus or children undergoing rapid growth spurts in infancy and adolescence.
  • Decreased absorption of iron
    • after a partial or total removal of the stomach;
    • lack of stomach acid;
    • chronic diarrhoea; or
    • malabsorption

Causes of pernicious anaemia

  • A lack of intrinsic factor is a common cause of pernicious anaemia as the body can’t absorb enough vitamin B12.
  • Some pernicious anaemia occurs because the body’s small intestine can’t properly absorb vitamin B12 which may be due to the wrong bacteria in the small intestines; certain diseases that interfere with vitamin B12 absorption; certain medicines; surgical removal of part of the small intestine; and tapeworm infection.
  • Sometimes people develop pernicious anaemia because they don’t get enough vitamin B12 in their diets.

Signs and symptom of anaemia

Signs and symptom of iron deficiency anaemia

The most common symptoms of chronic anaemia include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath and sometimes, a fast heartbeat. The tongue may also become smooth, shiny and inflamed – this is called glossitis. Angular stomatitis (erosion, tenderness and swelling at the corners of the mouth) may also occur. In some instances, the patient also suffers from pica, a craving for strange foods such as starch, ice and clay. The symptoms of the underlying cause of the iron deficiency may be present such as heavy menstrual bleeding or abdominal pain due to peptic ulceration.

Signs and symptoms of pernicious anaemia

Apart from the symptoms of anaemia (fatigue, dizziness, etc.), the vitamin B12 deficiency may also have some serious symptoms such as

  • Nerve damage
  • Neurological problems such as confusion, dementia, depression, and memory loss.
  • Symptoms in the digestive tract include nausea and vomiting, heartburn, abdominal bloating and gas, constipation or diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
  • An enlarged liver
  • A smooth, beefy red tongue
  • Infants who have vitamin B12 deficiency may have poor reflexes or unusual movements, such as face tremors.

Dietary management of anaemia

Dietary management of iron deficiency anaemia

Treatment for iron-deficiency anaemia will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Treatments may include dietary changes and supplements, medicines, and surgery. Severe iron-deficiency anaemia may require treatment in hospital, blood transfusions, iron rejections, or intravenous iron therapy (West, 1996).

Dietary management of pernicious anaemia

Pernicious anaemia is treated by replacing the missing vitamin B12 in the body by eating food rich in vitamin B12 People who have this disease may need lifelong treatment (West, 1996).


Anaemia is a life threatening issue and should be treated with all seriousness. The best way to manage it is preventing its occurrence as much as possible. Especially, nutritional anaemia can be effectively managed by ensuring the avoidance of the situations of iron and vitamin B12 deficiency in our diet.

References Definition of Anaemia. Last Editorial Review: March 30, 2009, 8:31:00 AM

Natasha, S. & Yasmin, G. (2013).  The 7 types of Anaemia. Retrieved  on March 30, 2014 from

Sinha N, Deshmukh PR & Garg BS (2008). “Epidemiological correlates of nutritional anemia among children (6-35 months) in rural Wardha, Central India”. Indian J Med Sci 62 (2): 45–54.

West, C.E. (1996). “Strategies to control nutritional anaemia”. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 64 (5): 789–90.

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