Anemia—What Women Should Know

Anemia affects an estimated 400 million women worldwide, and most women are unaware of the symptoms of anemia and tend to attribute such mild symptoms to the stress of modern life.

The term anemia literally means "without blood" and refers to a condition in which the bloodstream is deficient in red blood cells (RBC's) or the hemoglobin (iron-containing) portion of RBC's. These RBC’s carry oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body in exchange for carbon dioxide which is a waste product of the cells. Because the cells have less oxygen available to them in anemia, they have less energy to perform their normal functions.

The causes of anemia can vary, from excessive blood loss, excessive RBC destruction, or deficient RBC production. In diseases such as Crohn’s and celiac disease, malnourishment and malabsorption of necessary B vitamins can also lead to anemia. Being deficient in iron, which is used to make hemoglobin, is another nutritional cause of the most common form of anemia as well—iron deficiency anemia.

In the US, 20% of all women of childbearing age have iron deficiency anemia, compared to only 2% of men. The difference is that women can lose an excessive amount of blood during menstruation, especially if they have heavy bleeding. Also, chronic diseases that inhibit formation of new blood or cause blood loss—such as peptic ulcer, bone marrow disease and bleeding hemorrhoids—can contribute to anemia. When looking at Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), anemia resembles what is considered blood deficiency.

You may be asking yourself, what are the symptoms of anemia? It’s important to realize that symptoms of anemia can be very broad and general to very specific.

Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

Symptoms to look for

  • pale or sallow complexion, lips, and nail beds
  • fatigue

  • dizziness and/or headache

  • increased heart rate

  • sore or swollen tongue

  • shortness of breath

  • irritability

  • ringing in the ears

  • cravings for ice, dirt or paint

  • unique symptoms that may occur with anemia due to blood deficiency in TCM are: heart palpitations, blurry vision, insomnia, numbness of the limbs, scanty periods, delayed menstruation, no periods, hair loss, premature graying and thin dry hair, dry skin, poor appetite.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you could be anemic. At SFNM, we can help you pinpoint the underlying cause of the anemia through a complete diagnostic workup looking at your RBC's, hemoglobin, hematocrit and serum ferritin (determines body iron stores). Depending on the cause of your anemia, we can suggest and provide appropriate supplements in cases of deficiency (either through vitamin and mineral supplements, IV therapy, or vitamin injections), guide you in proper diets to help “build blood,” and nourish your blood and tonify your qi through acupuncture. Please realize that you should consult your practitioner for proper dosage of iron, in particular, because excessive amounts of iron can cause constipation, impair the uptake of essential trace minerals, and at worst, high levels of iron in the blood may increase the risk of a heart attack.

What can you do in the meantime if you think you are anemic?

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  • Eat certain foods that are good sources of iron: green, leafy vegetables, dried beans, blackstrap molasses, dried apricots, prunes, raisins and other dried fruits, almonds, seaweeds, parsley, whole grains and yams.

  • If you know you have severe anemia, try eating beef, liver, lean meat, oysters, lamb or chicken.

  • To enhance the absorption of iron from foods, eat foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus, tomatoes and strawberries or take vitamin C supplements.

  • Avoid foods that interfere with iron absorption, such as tea, coffee, wheat bran, spinach, Swiss chard, rhubarb, chocolate, soft drinks, beer, ice cream and candy bars.

  • Avoid using antacids and the overuse of calcium supplements because they also decrease iron absorption.

Anemia is a condition all women should be aware of. Our doctors at  SFNM can help you find out your status and start you on a personalized treatment plan.