Vitamin deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused by lower-than-normal amounts of certain vitamins. The vitamins linked to vitamin deficiency anemia include folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C.
Vitamin deficiency anemia can occur if you don’t eat enough folate, vitamin B-12 or vitamin C. Or vitamin deficiency anemia can occur if your body has trouble absorbing or processing these vitamins.
The lack of red blood cells caused by vitamin deficiency anemia can cause weakness and shortness of breath. Vitamin deficiency anemia can usually be corrected with vitamin supplements and changes to your diet.
Signs and symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia include:
Shortness of breath
Pale or yellowish skin
Swollen tongue that may appear dark red
Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
Mental confusion or forgetfulness
Vitamin deficiencies usually develop slowly over several months to years. Vitamin deficiency symptoms may be subtle at first, but they increase as the deficiency worsens.
1. Folate deficiency anemia. Folate, also known as vitamin B-9, is a nutrient found mainly in fruits and leafy green vegetables. A diet consistently lacking in these foods can lead to a deficiency.
2. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia (pernicious anemia). Vitamin B-12 deficiency can result from a diet lacking in vitamin B-12, which is found mainly in meat, eggs and milk. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia can also occur if your small intestine can’t absorb vitamin B-12.
3. Vitamin C deficiency anemia. Though rare, vitamin C deficiency can develop if you don’t get enough vitamin C from the foods you eat. Vitamin C deficiency is also possible if something impairs your ability to absorb vitamin C from food. For instance, smoking impairs your body’s ability to absorb vitamin C.
Being deficient in vitamins increases your risk of many health problems:
Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women with folate deficiency may be more likely to experience miscarriage and deliver babies that are premature or are smaller than average. A developing fetus that doesn’t get enough folate from its mother can develop birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, ask your doctor whether you should consider taking folic acid supplements, so your body’s stores of folate will be enough to support your baby.
Nervous system disorders. While vitamin B-12 is important for the production of red blood cells, it’s also important for a healthy nervous system. Untreated, vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to neurological problems, such as persistent tingling in your hands and feet. It can lead to mental confusion and forgetfulness, because vitamin B-12 is necessary for healthy brain function. Without treatment for vitamin B-12 deficiency, neurological complications can become permanent. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause these and other health problems before it leads to anemia.
Scurvy. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy. Signs and symptoms of this rare disease include bleeding under the skin and around the gums
Treatment and drugs
Folate deficiency anemia. Treatment involves eating a healthy diet and taking folic acid supplements as prescribed by your doctor. In most cases, folic acid supplements are taken orally. Once your body’s level of folate increases to normal, you may be able to stop taking the supplements. But if the cause of your folate deficiency can’t be corrected, you may need to take folic acid supplements for life.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia (pernicious anemia). For milder cases of vitamin B-12 deficiency, treatment may involve changes to your diet and vitamin B-12 supplements in pill form or as a nasal spray. In more severe cases, you may receive vitamin B-12 injections. At first you may receive the shots as often as every other day. Eventually you’ll need injections just once a month, which may continue for life, depending on your situation.
Vitamin C deficiency anemia. Treatment for anemia related to vitamin C deficiency is with vitamin C tablets. Additionally, you increase your intake of foods and beverages that contain vitamin C.
1. Choose a healthy diet
You can prevent some forms of vitamin deficiency anemias by choosing a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods.
Foods rich in folate include:
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dried beans and peas
Enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice
Fruits and fruit juices
Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include:
Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals
Milk, cheese and yogurt
Red and white meats and shellfish
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Citrus fruits and juices
Most adults need these daily dietary amounts of the following vitamins:
Vitamin B-12, 2.4 micrograms (mcg)
Folate or folic acid, 400 mcg
Vitamin C, 75 to 90 milligrams
Pregnant and chest-feeding women may require more of each vitamin.
2. Consider a multivitamin
If you’re concerned about getting enough vitamins from the food you eat, ask your doctor whether a multivitamin may be right for you. Most people get enough vitamins from the foods they eat. But if you’re diet is restricted, you may wish to take a multivitamin.
3. Don’t smoke
Smoking interferes with the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin C, so it can raise your risk of a vitamin deficiency. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you’ve tried to quit on your own and haven’t been successful, talk with your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
4. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
Alcohol can contribute to vitamin deficiency anemia. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. In general, this means limiting yourself to two drinks per day if you’re a man or one drink per day if you’re a woman.