Anemia is the deficiency in the number of red blood cells in one’s body. The red blood cells carry oxygen around the body using the protein called hemoglobin. Anemic people have their RBC or hemoglobin levels lower than normal.
Anemia is more common in women than in men. It is estimated that about one in five menstruating women is anemic.
The risk of anemia is significantly influenced by the diet that we follow. In this article, we focus on the vegan diet and ways to mitigate anemia risk while on it.
What Are The Causes Of Anemia?
Dietary habits and genetic reasons could lead to different types of anemia.
- Dietary deficiency: A diet that is lacking iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12 could make you anemic.
- Genetics: Inherited disorders like thalassemia and sickle cell disease can cause anemia.
- Autoimmune diseases: Hemolytic anemia is an autoimmune condition caused when the immune cells of the body attack the RBCs and shorten their life span.
- Malabsorption: Conditions like celiac disease may result in malabsorption where the body cannot absorb the nutrients in food properly.
- Hormone disorders: Conditions like hypothyroidism can cause anemia.
- Blood loss: Blood loss caused by heavy menstruation, surgery, accident, or peptic ulcer may make you anemic.
- Infection: Infections like malaria decreases the life span of RBCs and might cause anemia.
What Are The Symptoms Of Anemia?
If you are anemic, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Pale skin
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent headaches
- Reddened or cracked tongue
- Drop in blood pressure
Vegans And Anemia Risk
Several animal products rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid are important in avoiding the risk of anemia. Meat is a rich source of iron. When you avoid all meat products from your diet, there is a chance that you might become anemic. But that happens only when you do not include iron-rich plant foods in your diet.
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that is found in foods like fish, eggs, meat, and dairy. As vegans avoid all animal-derived foods, they might develop vitamin B12 deficiency and become anemic due to that reason.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron is important for carrying oxygen in the hemoglobin of the RBCs. The oxygen supply will be affected adversely if you lack iron.
The iron requirements for people of different ages and genders are given below:
- Women aged between 14 and 18: 15 milligrams
- Women aged between 19 and 50:18 milligrams
- Women aged 51 and older: 8 milligram
- Men aged between 14 and 18: 11 milligram
- Men aged 19 and older: 8 milligram
Heme and non-heme iron are the two forms of iron. Hem iron is found in foods like meat, poultry, and fish. It is easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron that is usually found in plant foods.
The body can use non-heme iron but it isn’t that easy as using heme iron.
Vegans have to include the following foods in their diet to avoid iron deficiency.
- Whole grains
- Blackstrap molasses
- Green leafy vegetables
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dried fruits
Vitamin C promotes better consumption of iron in your body. Hence, it is recommended to combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C-containing foods.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia
Anemia caused by the deficiency of vitaminB12 is called pernicious anemia. As vegans tend to eliminate all animal foods from their diet, they might develop vitamin B12 deficiency. To avoid this from happening, you might have to take vitamin B12 supplements.
Here are some vegan foods that contain vitamin B12:
- B12-fortified soy milk or rice
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified grains
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is associated with various complications, especially when you have been deficient for a long time.
The complications include:
- Temporary infertility
- Complications during pregnancy and childbirth
- Heart conditions
Adults with severe anemia are at greater risk of heart failure.
Diagnosing Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia
Mouth ulcers, muscle weakness, vision issues, psychological problems like confusion and depression, and memory issues are some of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. If you notice one or many of these symptoms, it could indicate that you have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Doctors may suggest a blood test to detect if you are B12 deficient. If diagnosed with a deficiency, treat it as soon as possible by taking supplements and making appropriate changes in your diet.
The diet that you follow influences your physical and mental health. Always ensure that the diet you follow has all the important nutrients in the required levels. As vegans avoid many foods, they have to take extra care to make sure that they are not missing out on any important nutrients.