It is the responsibility of the red blood cells in the body to carry oxygen rich iron from the lungs to the tissues and cells of the body. Anaemia occurs when an individual does not have enough red blood cells in the body, or when the red blood cells do not function properly – leaving the cells with a lack of oxygen.
Signs and symptoms of the condition can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Pounding or "whooshing" in the ears
- Cold hands or feet
- Pale or yellow skin
- Chest pain
- Sore, red flaky sores at one or both of the sides of the mouth
Individuals can be at risk of anaemia due to poor diet with a lack of essential nutrients, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, cancer such as leukaemia, infections, alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, a family history of anaemia as well as a number of other conditions. Women who are menstruating or pregnant and those with chronic medical conditions are also at risk, including those with rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune conditions, kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The risk of anaemia increases also with age.
Common Types of anaemia include:
Iron-deficiency anaemia: The most common type of anaemia. It occurs when one does not have enough iron in their body. Usually due to blood loss (i.e. heavy menstruation, ulcers in stomach or colon or overuse of aspirin), it can also be due to poor absorption of iron. Pregnancy and childbirth are also risk factors, as well as those who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, which can leave them susceptible to poor absorption.
Vitamin-deficiency anaemia: This can result from low levels of vitamin B12 or folate (folic acid) in the body, usually due to poor dietary intake or malabsorption. Pernicious anaemia is a condition in which vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.
Anaemia of inflammation: Here, certain diseases, e.g. cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other acute or chronic inflammatory diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells in the body.
Aplastic anaemia: This is a rare bone marrow failure condition, where the bone marrow stops making enough blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets), and can occur as a result of the destruction or deficiency of blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow, viral infections, ionising radiation, and exposure to toxic chemicals or drugs.
Anaemia associated with bone marrow disease: A number of diseases, e.g. leukaemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anaemia by affecting blood production in the bone marrow.
Haemolytic anaemia: This condition usually occurs when red blood cells are broken up in the bloodstream or in the spleen faster than they can be produced. It can result from mechanical causes (leaky heart valves or aneurysms), infections, autoimmune disorders, or congenital abnormalities in the red blood cells, and can also be an inherited condition.
Left untreated anaemia can lead to extreme fatigue, complications with pregnancy, heart issues and in some cases can also be life threatening.
The treatment process differs according to the type of the condition as well as the cause.
- Iron-deficiency anaemia is almost always due to blood loss. A specialist will need to locate the cause of this. Iron supplements and nutritional changes may also be prescribed.
- B-12 deficiency treatment varies from changing ones’ diet to dietary supplements.
- Chronic diseases: Treatment of the underlying disease will often improve the anaemia. Under some circumstances, medications to stimulate bone marrow production may be prescribed.
- Aplastic anaemia: Here, medications and blood transfusions may be used to treat the condition.
- Haemolytic anaemia: The treatment will depend upon the cause and may include referral to a heart/vascular specialist, antibiotics, or drugs that suppress the immune system.
- Sickle cell anaemia: Management is aimed at avoiding pain episodes, relieving symptoms, and preventing any complications, through the use of include medications and blood transfusions. A stem cell transplant might cure the disease, in children and teenagers.
Many types of anaemia are not preventable. However, iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin deficiency anaemia can generally be avoided through a diet which includes a variety of vitamins and minerals:
- Iron: Found in meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
- Folate: Found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
- Vitamin B-12: Found in meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
- Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries.
Ayurvedic Approach to Anaemia (Pandu):
According to Ayurveda, there are a number of causative factors for the condition (in addition to those mentioned above):
- Excess work, mental strain, loss of sleep which lead to indigestion and malabsorption.
- Intake of excess sour and salty foods leading to tissue toxicity.
- Sleeping during the day, sedentary lifestyle leading to impaired metabolism
- Intake of food that is too spicy leading to the hinderance of the movements of essential nutrients.
- Intake of mud (from soil contamination, or pica disorder)
Ayurveda sees that the above causative factors hamper the balance of the digestive fire (Agni), which results in poor absorption of nutrients and/or other Doshic imbalances. There are five types of anaemia according to Ayurveda.
Vata dominant anaemia: Rough and dry skin, dry eyes, reduced urine output, aches and pain, tremors, cracking joints, prickling pain, constipation, weakness and malaise, burning sensation and giddiness.
Pitta dominant anaemia: Yellowing of eyes and skin, yellow urine, fever and burning sensations, excessive thirst, sweating, sour belching, light sensitivity, light coloured and loose stools.
Kapha dominant anaemia: oedema, nausea, cold/clammy skin, drowsiness, lethargy, heaviness of body parts, white complexion, giddiness, loss of appetite, cough, whitish coloured urine, whitish eyes, and whitish stools.
Tridoshic anaemia: Mixed features/symptoms of the above.
Anaemia due to eating dirt/mud (from Soil contamination or Pica disorder): Oedema in chin, below eyes, feet, umbilical area and/or genitalia, indigestion, debility of sense organs, worm infestation, loose bowels and/or blood in stool, dryness of body, and breathlessness.
BENEFICIAL AYURVEDIC HERBS FOR ANAEMIA:
Vata Pitta Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, shatavari, fresh ginger, vidari kand
Vata Kapha Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, chitraka, fresh ginger, ashwaganda, cinnamon, trikatu, fenugreek
Pitta Vata Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, shatavari, fresh ginger, vidari kand
Pitta Kapha Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, kutki, fresh ginger, musta, daruharidra,
Kapha Vata Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, chitraka, fresh ginger, ashwaganda, cinnamin, trikatu, fenugreek
Kapha Pitta Balancing: saffron, guduchi, aloe vera juice, triphala, punarnava, kutki, fresh ginger, musta, daruharidra,
Traditional Ayurvedic Treatment(s) for Anaemia:
Ayurvedic treatment approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual, the current imbalances, their age, strength, severity of the condition, and if other conditions are also present. Treatment approaches can include:
- Avoid causative factors
- Balance Jataragni, and digestion
- Gently remove Ama (toxins within the digestive tract and body)
- Balance doshic imbalances through diet/lifestyle/herbs
- Increase absorption of nutrients, and increase blood volume
- Intake of clean, wholefood, organic eating as much as possible
- Build immunity and nourishment of body tissues
General Ayurvedic Nutritional Guidelines for Anaemia:
Ayurvedic nutritional approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. One should eat compatible foods, and in accordance to one's imbalances. Some additional general guidelines include:
- One should eat the foods that one does not react to.
- One should eat according to the digestive capacity, keeping meals light, cooked, warm moist and easy to digest. As a guide, eat to fill the stomach 1/3 with solid food, 1/3 with liquid and leaving 1/3 empty to allow room for digestive secretions in the stomach.
- One should eat at regular times/intervals. Avoid skipping meals.
- One should eat wholegrains and non-processed foods, be sure to use ghee in cooking. Have adequate intake of raisins, grapes, dates, nuts, tofu, beets, spinach, broccoli, pomegranate juice, fruit rich in vitamin c, nuts and seeds, apricots, and organic bone broth. If digestion is strong enough, chicken is also good to have. If digestion is poor, then stick to bone broth (of not vegetarian/vegan).
- A beetroot and carrot juice for morning or afternoon tea can be beneficial. Take at room temperature, not chilled.
- If possible, cook with an iron skillet.
- Take a few teaspoons of lemon, lime or orange juice with meals to help increase iron absorption. Do no drink any caffeinated beverages with meals.
- Foods to avoid: Cold foods, raw foods, leftover foods (24 hours), frozen foods, cold water, processed and packaged foods, soft drinks and aerated beverages, high fat foods, greasy foods, extra salty foods.
- One should avoid overeating. Allow 6 hours between meals and snack 3 hours after a meal and eat only if hungry. If digestion is poor, then 4 light meals per day is advisable in place of three regular meals.
- Breakfast should be easy to digest, lunch the main meal, and dinner should be lighter than lunch.
- Buttermilk consumed after meals is advisable.
- Eat home cooked meals, preferably made on the same day as being prepared.
- Water should be drunk warm in the cooler months and room temperature in the summer months. Avoid chilled water.
- Use all of the five senses at mealtimes. Savour the food that you are eating.
- Eat in a pleasant environment. Eat seated and try to avoid TV and electronic devices whilst eating.
- Eat slowly, eat with respect/reverence for what you are eating, chew thoroughly.
General Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guidelines for Anaemia:
Ayurvedic lifestyle approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. Some general guidelines include:
- Allow for sufficient rest and sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day, and best before 10pm. Avoid also sleeping during the day.
- Keep to a routine as much as possible during the day.
- Get sufficient daily activity and exercise, without overdoing exercise. Balanced activity/exercise is healthy, but avoid over-exertion.
- Avoid stress, anxiety, fear and tension.
- Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is very beneficial. Meditation, yoga and pranayama can also be highly beneficial.
- Make sure to be well rugged, especially when going outside. Stay warm at all times and get some morning sun exposure.
- Avoid smoking and minimise alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Avoid constipation (and very loose stools) and regulate bowel movements.
- Look at counselling for self-care and working through any stress, anxiety, anger or any other mental health and/or emotional issues.
If you have any concerns about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician. See our Ayurvedic Practitioner Services and Consultation Page for more information.