Vitamin deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused when you have lower than normal amounts of certain vitamins. 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.
Not all anemias are caused by a vitamin deficiency. Other causes include iron deficiency and certain blood diseases. That's why it's important to have your doctor diagnose and treat your anemia. Vitamin deficiency anemia can usually be corrected with vitamin supplements and changes to your diet.
Signs and symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia include:
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.
Vitamin deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn't have enough of the vitamins needed to produce adequate numbers of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your body. If your diet is lacking in certain vitamins, vitamin deficiency anemia can develop. Or vitamin deficiency anemia may develop because your body can't properly absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat.
Causes of vitamin deficiency anemias, also known as megaloblastic anemias, include:
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.
An inability to absorb folate from food also can lead to a deficiency. Most nutrients from food are absorbed in your small intestine. People with diseases of the small intestine, such as celiac disease, or those who have had a large part of the small intestine surgically removed or bypassed may have difficulty absorbing folate or its synthetic form, folic acid. Alcohol decreases absorption of folate, so drinking alcohol to excess may lead to a deficiency. Certain prescription drugs, such as some anti-seizure medications, can interfere with absorption of this nutrient.
Pregnant women and women who are breast-feeding have an increased demand for folate, as do people undergoing hemodialysis for kidney disease. Failure to meet this increased demand can result in a deficiency.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency 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. This may be due to surgery to your stomach or small intestine (such as gastric bypass surgery), abnormal bacterial growth in your small intestine, or an intestinal disease, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, that interferes with absorption of the vitamin. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also be caused by a tapeworm ingested from contaminated fish, because the tapeworm saps nutrients from your body. However, a vitamin B-12 deficiency is most often due to a lack of a substance called intrinsic factor.
Intrinsic factor is a protein secreted by the stomach that joins vitamin B-12 in the stomach and escorts it through the small intestine to be absorbed by your bloodstream. Without intrinsic factor, vitamin B-12 can't be absorbed and leaves your body as waste. Lack of intrinsic factor may be due to an autoimmune reaction in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the stomach cells that produce it. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia caused by a lack of intrinsic factor is called pernicious anemia.
Doctors diagnose vitamin deficiency anemias through blood tests that check:
If blood tests reveal a vitamin deficiency, your doctor may perform other tests to determine the type and cause, such as:
Being deficient in vitamins increases your risk of many health problems:
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:
Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include:
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Most adults need these daily dietary amounts of the following vitamins:
Pregnant and breast-feeding women may require more of each vitamin.
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 your diet is restricted, you may wish to take a multivitamin.
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.
Alcohol can contribute to vitamin deficiency anemia. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, moderate drinking is generally considered to be:
A drink is 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits.
A number of factors can affect your body's vitamin stores.
In general, your risk of vitamin deficiency is increased if:
Some risk factors are unique to specific vitamin deficiencies.