Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. Having anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin, can make you feel tired and weak.
Your body makes three types of blood cells – white blood cells to fight infection, platelets to help your blood clot, and red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body and carbon dioxide from the body back to the lungs.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs to be exhaled.
Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are produced regularly in your bone marrow. This spongy material is found within the cavities of many of your large bones. To produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the foods you eat.
Being anemic might mean that you feel more tired or cold than you usually do, or if your skin seems too pale. This is due to your organs not receiving the oxygen they need to do their jobs.
Anemia can have other affects on your body in addition to feeling tired or cold. Other signs that you might be lacking in iron include having brittle or spoon-shaped nails and possible hair loss. You might find that your sense of taste has changed, or you might experience ringing in your ears.
There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe. In most cases, anemia has more than one cause.
Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. The condition leaves you fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding. This is a rare and serious condition and can develop at any age. It can occur suddenly, or it can come on slowly and worsen over time. It can be mild or severe.
Treatment for aplastic anemia might include medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia. With this condition, blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells which are needed to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin). As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.
You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplementation. Sometimes additional tests or treatments for iron deficiency anemia are necessary, especially if your doctor suspects that you’re bleeding internally.
Sickle cell anemia is one of a group of inherited disorders known as sickle cell disease. It affects the shape of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Red blood cells are usually round and flexible, so they move easily through blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, some red blood cells are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These sickle cells also become rigid and sticky, which can slow or block blood flow.
There’s no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia. Treatments can relieve pain and help prevent complications associated with the disease.
Thalassemia (thal-uh-SEE-me-uh) is an inherited blood disorder that causes your body to have less hemoglobin than normal. Thalassemia can cause anemia, leaving you fatigued.
If you have mild thalassemia, you might not need treatment. But more severe forms might require regular blood transfusions. You can take steps to cope with fatigue, such as choosing a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Vitamin deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused by lower than usual amounts of vitamin B-12 and folate. This can happen if you don’t eat enough foods containing vitamin B-12 and folate, or if your body has trouble absorbing or processing these vitamins. Without these nutrients, the body produces red blood cells that are too large and don’t work properly. This reduces their ability to carry oxygen.
Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. Vitamin supplements, taken by pill or injection, can correct the deficiencies.
Anyone can develop anemia, although the following groups have a higher risk:
- Women: Blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth can lead to anemia. This is especially true if you have heavy periods or a condition like fibroids.
- Children, ages 1 to 2: The body needs more iron during growth spurts.
- Infants: Infants may get less iron when they are weaned from breast milk or formula to solid food. Iron from solid food is not as easily taken up by the body.
- People over 65: People over 65 are more likely to have iron-poor diets and certain chronic diseases.
- People on blood thinners: These medications include drugs include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix®), warfarin (Coumadin®), heparin products, apixaban (Eliquis®), betrixaban (BevyxXa®), dabigatran (Pradaxa®), edoxaban (Savaysa®) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto®).
Several signs and symptoms occur in all types of anemia, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and feeling cold. Others include:
- Dizziness or weakness.
- Sore tongue.
- Pale skin, dry skin, or easily bruised skin.
- Unintended movement in the lower leg (restless legs syndrome).
- Fast heartbeat.
Many types of anemia can’t be prevented. But you can avoid iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemias by eating a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Iron. Iron-rich foods include beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
- Folate. This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts
- Vitamin C. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These also help increase iron absorption.
- Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12:
- Nutritional Yeast.
- Marmite + Yeast Spreads.
- Fortified Soy + Almond Milk.
- Plant-Based Meats.
- Fortified Cereals.
- Nori Seaweed.
These 6 foods are great sources of vegan-friendly iron:
1. Blackstrap molasses
Blackstrap molasses is the best source of nonheme iron (Two types of iron are found in food: heme, animal-derived, and non-heme, plant-derived). Only 2 tablespoon contains 7.2 milligrams of iron. Molasses contains higher amounts of sugar, so intake should be limited.
Lentils are not only full of iron, but also high in potassium, fiber, and folate, a B vitamin. One cup contains 6.6 milligrams of iron.
Tofu and tempeh soy-based products are an integral part of a vegan diet. Tofu has a higher iron content of 6.6 milligrams per half-cup. One cup of tempeh has 4.5 milligrams of iron.
One cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 milligrams of iron. Adding spinach to meals, whether it’s sauteed in a dish, added to smoothies, or eaten raw, is an easy way of including more iron in your diet.
Beans are a great source of iron. Kidney beans (5.2 milligram / cup), soybeans (4.5 milligrams / cup), and lima beans (4.5 milligrams / cup) have the highest iron content.
6. Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a green leafy vegetable rich in vitamins and minerals. This multi-beneficial vegetable can be steamed, sauteed, or eaten raw. But it’s less bitter when cooked. One cup of cooked swiss chard contains 4 milligrams of iron.
If you have been told your iron is low and iron supplements are suggested, Floradix® Iron + Herbs Liquid Herbal Supplement is the best-selling natural liquid iron supplement. It does contain wheat germ extract and should be avoided if you have a reaction to gluten.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat arthritis and lower back pain, while Roman troops rubbed it on themselves to help stay warm.
Its scientific name, Urtica dioica, comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn,” because its leaves can cause a temporary burning sensation upon contact. The stingers are tiny trichomes, or hollow hairs, that sting and also produce itching, redness and swelling.
Nettle leaves and stalks are high in calcium, magnesium, trace minerals, chlorophyll, chromium, cobalt, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, sulfur, protein, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, D, K and B complex, and carotenes.
- Fats: Linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and oleic acid
- Amino acids: All of the essential amino acids
- Polyphenols: Kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins and other flavonoids
- Pigments: Beta-carotene, lutein, luteoxanthin and other carotenoids
Many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body defending your cells against damage from free radicals. Studies indicate that stinging nettle extract can raise blood antioxidant levels.
In animal and test-tube studies, stinging nettle reduced levels of multiple inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production. In human studies, applying a stinging nettle cream or consuming stinging nettle products relieves inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. In one 27-person study, applying a stinging nettle cream onto arthritis-affected areas significantly reduced pain, compared to a placebo treatment.
Hay fever is an allergy that involves inflammation in the lining of your nose. Stinging nettle is a natural treatment for hay fever. Test-tube research shows that stinging nettle extracts can inhibit inflammation that can trigger seasonal allergies. This includes blocking histamine receptors and stopping immune cells from releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
An enlarged prostate is commonly called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Scientists aren’t sure what causes BPH, but it can lead to significant discomfort during urination. Stinging nettle may help treat BPH. Animal research reveals that nettles prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, a more powerful form of testosterone. Stopping this conversion can help reduce prostate size. Studies in people with BPH demonstrate that stinging nettle extracts help treat short- and long-term urination problems, without side effects.
Stinging nettle was traditionally used to treat high blood pressure. Animal and test-tube studies illustrate that it may help lower blood pressure in several ways. It may stimulate nitric oxide production, which acts as a vasodilator. Vasodilators relax the muscles of your blood vessels, helping them widen.
Stinging nettle has compounds that may act as calcium channel blockers, which relax your heart by reducing the force of contractions.
Both human and animal studies link stinging nettle to lower blood sugar levels. Stinging nettles contain compounds that may mimic the effects of insulin. In a three-month study in 46 people, taking 500 mg of stinging nettle extract three times daily significantly lowered blood sugar levels compared to a placebo.
Stinging nettle may offer other potential health benefits, including:
- Helps in relaxing. As a flower essence, nettle may help in decision-making. It has a calming effect, and it clears up brain fog as well as aids in making clear and concise decisions. Nettle promotes a grounded feeling when we get overwhelmed. Nettle flower essence may also help in healing from unresolved tensions.
- Reduced bleeding: Medicines containing stinging nettle extract have been found to reduce excessive bleeding, especially after surgery.
- Liver health: Nettle’s antioxidant properties may protect your liver against damage by toxins, heavy metals and inflammation.
- Natural diuretic: This plant may help your body shed excess salt and water, which in turn could lower blood pressure temporarily. Keep in mind that these findings
are from animal studies.
- Wound and burn healing: Applying stinging nettle creams may support wound healing, including burn wounds.
- It may help during menopause, provides nourishment and kidney tonic after chemotherapy, works as a general tonic for kidney and gout.
Stinging nettle can be applied as a cream or oil. Nettle can also be made into a tea or taken as a pill, powder, or extract. Dosage is 300 mg/day, one to two times daily. Don’t take nettle if you take medication for blood pressure. Check with your health care provider before you start taking it.
How to Buy
Stinging nettle sold is easy to find in tea form in health food stores. To try the plant in its fresh leaf form, you can find it at a farmers’ market, or pick it yourself. Finding the plant in the wild isn’t too hard, and the jagged-leafed stalk grows like a weed wherever it takes root. You can also plant stinging nettle in your own garden, though give it a patch away from other vegetables so it doesn’t take over.
How to Store
Pick stinging nettle fresh and use it right away. Or place the cut plants in a jar of water like you would cut flowers to prolong its life to about five days in the refrigerator. If you plan on preparing and cleaning the leaves before storage, you can place the damp plant between paper towels and store in a silicone bag or container for up to three days.
How to Cook
While coming into contact with this plant in its raw form does hurt, the effect will wear off and its trichomes can easily be removed.
Before you cook with this plant, make sure it’s very clean. You don’t want to ingest the stinging hairs. Wash it well while wearing gloves to break up the needles or cook it down so they melt away. If you use it raw, first crush the hollow “needles” flat using the blunt end of a knife or pressing down with a drinking glass. This can be done wearing gloves to ensure you don’t get stung. Blanching the leaves briefly in boiling water will also remove the stingers.
Stinging nettle tastes like mild spinach without the strong iron flavor. It’s green and grassy-tasting, not unlike other dark leafy plants, with a bit of a peppery bite, like arugula.
Anything you can do with spinach you can basically do with stinging nettle, and more. Cook it down like a leafy green and add to soup and creamy risotto, layer it into lasagn.
To make tea, steep cleaned nettle leaves in boiling water for at least five minutes and then strain and sweeten as desired.
Stinging Nettles Soup
Molly Watson/ Photo credit: Corey Taratuta / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
- 1/2 pound stinging nettles
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons unsalted non-dairy butter, divided
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 pound potatoes
- 6 cups vegetable broth, or water
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup vegan heavy cream, optional (unsweetened creamer from Oatly, Silk)
- Vegan sour cream, non-dairy yogurt, or horseradish, optional
- Wear gloves to handle the nettles; otherwise, you will get poked with the prickles which will cause itching. Rinse the nettles in cold running water if they are gritty, and set aside.
- Peel and chop the onion. Everything will get puréed later, so don’t worry too much about how it looks.
- In a large pot, melt 1 tablespoon of the vegan butter over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes.
- While the onions cook, peel the potatoes and chop them up.
- Add the potatoes and the broth to the onions and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook until the potatoes are mostly tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add the nettles and cook until they’re very tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, plus the pepper and nutmeg.
- Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a blender or food processor in batches. For a silken, less fibrous texture, run the mixture through a food mill or sieve.
- Stir in the non-dairy cream, if using. Season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper if you like.
- Serve the soup hot, garnished with dairy-free sour cream or yogurt, and horseradish.