Vitamin deficiency anemia is due to a deficiency in vitamins that leads to a reduction in red blood cell production. Vitamins linked to this type of anemia include folic acid, vitamin B-12, which is necessary to produce an adequate number of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. A vitamin C deficiency could also have an effect on red blood cell production by playing a role in the absorption of iron. We discuss this topic with Dr. Barbara Sarina, hematologist at Humanitas.
Deficiency or malabsorption of vitamins: what are the symptoms?
Folates, vitamin B-12: These are the vitamins that, if lacking, due to reduced intake or difficulties in absorption, can cause anemia. Not all anemias, however, is caused by a lack of vitamins. Iron deficiency and certain blood diseases can also cause a reduction in hemoglobin values.
If it results from a low vitamin intake, this disease can easily be treated with vitamin supplements or dietary changes. But how do we know if we suffer from it? Symptoms that may occur include asthenia, shortness of breath, dizziness, dull or yellowish complexion, irregular heartbeats, weight loss, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, possible personality changes, motor instability and mental confusion with a tendency to forget what is happening. Vitamin deficiencies usually develop slowly over several months or years and the symptoms, which start quietly, increase as the deficiency worsens.
Excessive alcohol consumption is also one of the causes
Among the most common causes of vitamin deficiency anemia, also known as megaloblastic anemia, the most common is folate deficiency anemia (also known as vitamin B-9), a nutrient found mainly in green leafy fruits and vegetables. Most of the nutrients derived from food are absorbed in the small intestine. People with diseases of the small intestine, such as celiac disease, or those who have undergone the removal of this area of the intestine may have difficulty absorbing folate or its synthetic form, folic acid. Alcohol decreases the absorption of folate, so drinking excess alcohol can lead to a deficiency. Some medications may also interfere with the absorption of this nutrient. Pregnant and nursing women have a higher demand for folate, as well as people undergoing hemodialysis for kidney disease. Failure to meet this requirement may therefore lead to a simultaneous shortage.
Risk factors for anemia
A number of factors can affect the body’s vitamin reserves. In general, the risk of vitamin deficiency increases if the diet contains few or no sources of natural vitamins, such as meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians, and vegans, who do not even eat animal products, may fall into this category. Overcooking food can also cause vitamin deficiency. Medications high in acid and certain medications used to treat type 2 diabetes may also interfere with the absorption of B-12. Some risk factors are specific to certain vitamin deficiencies. Risk factors for deficiency anemia include ongoing hemodialysis for kidney failure. Some drugs used to treat cancer may also interfere with folate metabolism. Risk factors for vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia include lack of intrinsic factor, autoimmune endocrine disorders, such as diabetes or thyroid disease. Patients with this condition may be more likely to develop a specific type of vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia called pernicious anemia. Among the risk factors for vitamin C deficiency anemia at the top of the list are smoking, followed by some chronic diseases, such as cancer or chronic kidney disease.
Complications in pregnancy
Pregnant women with folate deficiency may be more likely to have a premature birth or to have a baby with a bifid spine. A developing fetus that does not get enough folates from its mother may develop birth defects in the brain and spinal cord. Often these vitamins are to be supplemented during pregnancy.
Prevention starts with a healthy diet
To prevent certain forms of vitamin deficiency anemia, it is necessary to choose a healthy diet that includes a wide variety of foods. Folate rich foods are green leafy vegetables, enriched wheat products such as bread, cereals, pasta and rice, fruit and fruit juices. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 are eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt, red and white meat, and shellfish. Foods rich in vitamin C include broccoli, strawberries and peppers.