Aplastic anemia may include blood transfusions and medications for more serious cases. Severe aplastic anemia is life threatening and may require immediate hospitalization for treatment when the blood cell counts are extremely low.
While there is no limit to the number of blood cell transfusions a person may have, complications may sometimes arise with multiple transfusions. The blood transfusion raises red blood cell counts and relieves anemia and fatigue. Also, the transfusions of platelets can prevent excessive bleeding.
Transfused red blood cells contain iron that can accumulate in your body and can damage vital organs due to an iron overload, if not treated. Over time, your body may develop antibodies to transfused blood cells, making them less effective at relieving symptoms.
A stem cell transplant can rebuild the bone marrow with the stem cells that are coming from the donor. This may be a successful treatment option for people with severe aplastic anemia and are younger.
What if you are older? There is no place for allogeneic bone marrow transplantation as first line treatment in patients older than 60 years. Immunosuppressive treatment is a reasonable option in patients older than 60 years.
Let us understand aplastic anemia first
Aplastic anemia is primarily a blood disorder in which the body’s bone marrow fails to produce sufficient blood cells for circulation. It is a rare acquired disorder which is neither present at birth nor inherited, but is developed later on.
A low red blood cell count can cause reduction in the oxygen delivery to every tissue in the body. The common symptoms are
- Lack of physical energy
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent or prolonged infections
- Unexplained or easy bruising
- Orthostatic hypotension
- Chest pain due to insufficient oxygen
- Edema resulting from decreased blood cells
Aplastic anemia is a serious illness and if left untreated can even prove fatal. It can leave the patient utterly fatigued, and a higher risk of contracting infections and uncontrolled bleeding.
How can aplastic anemia be prevented?
- Avoid exposure to chemicals and toxic materials
- Avoid chemically treated food products
- Take necessary precautions when working with hazardous chemicals
- Consult medical physicians while undergoing radiation or chemotherapy
- Eat healthy iron rich foods and exercise regularly
Aplastic anemia can be best avoided by eating a wide variety of healthy foods which are rich in iron content. Fruits such as apples, bananas, apricots and plums; vegetables such as yams, squash, asparagus, broccoli and leafy vegetables, tofu, whole grains plus more. They all help build the body’s resistance.
People who have aplastic anemia may be at higher risk for infections due to low white blood cell counts.
- Stay away from people who are sick and avoid large crowds of people
- Avoid foods that can expose you to bacteria, such as uncooked foods
- Wash your hands often
- Get regular dental care to reduce the risk of infections in your mouth and throat
- Stay away from activities that could result in injuries and bleeding
- Avoid activities that cause chest pain or shortness of breath
When you have the rare but treatable disorder known as aplastic anemia, your marrow, which is the spongy stuff inside your bones, stops making new blood cells.
Sometimes, it stops making just one type, but more often you become low on all three; red, white cells and platelets. It can develop slowly or come on suddenly.
If your blood count gets low enough, it can be life threatening.
One of the people who was sick with aplastic anemia claimed her naturopath doctor told her it was a Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency almost always stemming from digestion issues. She was treated using vitamins and minerals.
Patients with a Vitamin B12 deficiency have elevated serum methylmalonic acid and homocysteine concentrations. Patients with a folate deficiency have an elevated homocysteine concentration only. Vitamin deficiency anemias are most often treated with injections of Vitamin B12 and folic acid, as well as oral vitamin tablets or capsules.
Iron supplementation should be prescribed and managed by the doctor, because too much iron can be toxic.
Have you known that parasites can cause anemia?
Other little causes of anemia are intestinal parasites or worms. Hookworm, pinworms, roundworms, toxoplasmosis and tapeworms feed on the blood supply as well as on the vitamins. 25 hookworms can consume fifteen grams of blood every 24 hours. A tapeworm can cause a shortage of Vitamin B12.
Symptoms of intestinal worms are itching at the rectum, restlessness at night with bad dreams, diarrhea, foul breath, dark circles under the eyes and a constant desire for food.
Garlic and coconut can help get rid of some types of parasites. Fresh papaya and grated raw carrot are also effective. After successful treatment for intestinal worms, perfect cleanliness should be observed to prevent recurrence.
The juice of the green papaya leaves can increase platelet count. The juice of the papaya leaves and the leaves stem are very effective in increasing the low blood platelet count instantly.
To increase the platelet count in the blood naturally, you can start eating colorful fruits and vegetables. Berries, green leafy vegetables, oranges, and tomatoes can help increase your platelet levels. Foods rich in Vitamin E & C will boost the immune system.
Phytonutrients help neutralize free radicals and aid in fighting low platelets. Red fruits are key to improved platelet count. Tomatoes, watermelons, cherries and berries are loaded with vitamin, minerals and strong antioxidant properties that help raise platelet count.
Some of the home remedies for anemia include eating leafy vegetables, bananas, beetroot, honey and spinach. Dietary deficiency is one of the reasons for anemia.
Beef liver is considered as one of the richest sources of iron, and is very useful in treating anemia.
A ripe banana along with honey twice a day can stimulate the hemoglobin production in the blood as they are rich in iron.
Lying out in the sun even for a short period of time, without sunscreen helps the body to produce red blood cells, and is also a good way to get other vital vitamins such as Vitamin D.
Red blood cells are important for the transport of oxygen rich blood to body tissues and for the removal of carbon dioxide from the body. Over time, red blood cells wear out and die. The bone marrow continually makes more red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is a B complex vitamin that is important for the DNA synthesis and the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Low levels of B12 can lead to abnormal cell division in the bone marrow that results in large immature red blood cells known as megaloblasts.
Sources of Vitamin B12 are beef liver, fish, red meat, eggs, milk, and dairy products. To produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, Vitamin B12 and other nutrients from the foods you eat.
In an aplastic anemia, there is marked reduction or absence of stem cells due to infections, autoimmune diseases or drugs. This decreases the production of red blood cells causing anemia.
What Can You Do?
Dietary changes may help you to keep your hemoglobin and red blood cell levels healthy naturally. Try including the foods listed below in your diet to support healthy blood levels.
A) Eat iron-rich foods:
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Dried Apricots (no sugar added)
- Fresh Parsley
- Spinach (cooked)
- Dried Coconut (unsweetened)
- Swiss Chard
- Collard Greens
- Beef and Chicken Liver
- Beef, Turkey, and Duck
- Oysters, Clams, Mussels, Mollusks
- Sardines and Anchovies
- Lima Beans, Pinto Beans, Peas
B) Avoid foods that block iron absorption
- Calcium-rich foods
- Dairy products (milk, cheese)
- Coffee, Tea, Alcohol
- Gluten (wheat)
C) Eat foods that increase iron absorption
- Bay leaf
- D) Eat foods that contain vitamins essential for red blood cell production
- Folic Acid is essential for the production of new red blood cells in the body. Some medications can interfere with utilization of folic acid and cause anemia. Sources of folic acid include lentils, dried beans, peas, brussels sprouts, banana, corn, beets, pineapple, peanuts, spinach, green beans, sprouts, chickpeas, and brown rice.
- Vitamin B12 is needed to make new red blood cells in the body. Prolonged use of certain medications may also interfere with the absorption of dietary vitamin B12. Milk, green leafy vegetables, meat, eggs, and fish are good sources of vitamin B12.
- Vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron, especially non-heme iron. Vitamin C is rich in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, and mustard greens. Increasing uptake of Vitamin C can cause excretion of folic acid from the body.
- E) Eat foods that support stem cell function
- Chlorophyll, in the form of sodium copper chlorophyllin, was found to promote the proliferation and differentiation of stem cell function and increased peripheral blood white cell and platelet counts, thereby improving immunoregulatory capacity in one study on mice with aplastic anemia.
Notice that avocado and green peas both contain two of the nutrients needed for healthy red blood cells so these are the top two red blood cell health foods. Make sure to get these in your diet.
The bone marrow produces stem cells, the building blocks that the body uses to make the different blood cells – red cells, white cells and platelets. The erythropoietin sends a message to the stem cells telling more of them to develop into red blood cells, rather than white cells or platelets.
Your body makes about 2 million new red cells every second, so it doesn’t take long to build up stores of them again.
What about your white cells and platelets? A number of other messenger proteins also stimulate the production of these cells in the bone marrow, and over the next few days levels return to normal.
If your bone marrow can’t make enough new blood cells, many health problems can occur. These problems include irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs), an enlarged heart, heart failure, infections, and bleeding. Severe aplastic anemia can even cause death.
In people who have aplastic anemia, the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This is because the bone marrow’s stem cells are damaged. Aplastic anemia also is called bone marrow failure.
Many diseases, conditions, and factors can damage the stem cells. These conditions can be acquired or inherited. “Acquired” means you aren’t born with the condition, but you develop it. “Inherited” means your parents passed the gene for the condition on to you.
In many people who have aplastic anemia, the cause is unknown. Aplastic anemia is a rare but serious disorder. It can develop suddenly or slowly. The disorder tends to get worse over time, unless its cause is found and treated. Treatments for aplastic anemia include blood transfusions, blood and marrow stem cell transplants, and medicines.
Lifestyle changes can increase red blood cells, such as a good amount of exercise, because it can make the body use more oxygen, which demands more red blood cell production.
This is especially effective if you live at a high altitude. Keep in mind that you must have certain vitamins in order to make this work, especially B12 and B6, so make sure to get plenty of them in your diet.
Cut off certain things. Some medications can cause lower red blood cell counts, and so can excessive alcohol consumption. You may want to avoid aspirin and alcohol.
What if you have tried a diet rich in the nutrients needed, and you have also taken supplements, but your red blood cell count remains low? In that case, it might be time for medical intervention. Keep in mind that this is usually a last resort, and most doctors will only go this route if your deficiencies in red blood cells are significant.
- Blood transfusion
- Erythropoietin hormone to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.
The Erythropoietin hormone
Erythropoietin is a substance produced by the kidney that leads to the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow. The kidney cells that make EPO are specialized and are sensitive to low oxygen levels in the blood coming into the kidney.
These cells release erythropoietin when the oxygen level is low in the kidney. Erythropoietin stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells which in turn increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Using recombinant DNA technology, EPO has been synthetically produced for use in persons with certain types of anemia: anemia due to kidney failure, anemia secondary to AZT treatment of AIDS, and anemia associated with cancer.
Millions of patients worldwide have benefited from research on erythropoietin spanning many decades. In the last 15 years, epoetin alfa (Epo) has become one of the most widely used drugs created through recombinant DNA technology, in which a nearly identical form of a substance that naturally occurs in the body, in this case, erythropoietin. It is created by replicating the human DNA in a laboratory.
Epo is used to treat anemia, a shortage of red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues and organs, anemia causes symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Epo treats this condition by imitating the action of the hormone erythropoietin, stimulating the body to produce more red blood cells.
Patients who may benefit from Epo therapy include those with chronic kidney disease, those who are anemic from AIDS or from a wide variety of hematologic disorders (including multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes), and some cancer patients who are anemic from receiving chemotherapy.
In selected patients, Epo may be used to reduce the need for blood transfusions in surgery. Kidneys were the primary source of erythropoietin, and that low oxygen was the main driver of erythropoietin production.
Patients with anemia responded by increasing their levels of erythropoietin to stimulate increased red blood cell production. Patients who required an increase in red blood cells in order to make up for low oxygen levels in the blood (such as patients with lung disease or patients living at high altitudes) also had elevated erythropoietin levels.
When you feed your immune system, you improve its fighting power. Your immune system and white blood cells work together to fight infections. White blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.
A blood cell disorder is a condition in which there’s a problem with your red blood cells, white blood cells, or the smaller, circulating cells called platelets, which are critical for clot formation. All three cell types form in the bone marrow, which is the soft tissue inside your bones.
Red blood cells transport oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues. White blood cells help your body fight infections. Platelets help your blood to clot. Blood cell disorders impair the formation and function of one or more of these types of blood cells.
Many people suffering from anemia are treated with erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs, which help the bone marrow produce RBCs), or hydroxyurea, a chemotherapy agent that reduces the number of unhealthy cells in the blood.
However, patients who do not respond to these agents must rely on regular blood transfusions to maintain proper RBC levels. While effective, transfusions are expensive, time-consuming, and associated with unique complications such as iron overload.
For those patients who do not respond to Epo, the ACE-536 is the second compound in a new class of activin receptor proteins. The study and trial is ongoing among adults with transfusion dependent and non-transfusion dependent beta-thalassemia.
Thoughts from the author:
Shirley Chio made this research for her mom who is sick of aplastic anemia. All she can say is that you should take care of your immune system and always eat a nutritious, balanced meal. Do not eliminate any food groups.
Aplastic anemia. Health-Forever.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Aplastic anemia. Mayo Clinic.
NIH. Living with aplastic anemia.
The essence of life blog. Anemia: Foods that boost blood cells.
Zand, J., Rountree, R., Walton, R. & Gordon, J. N. (1994). Smart medicine for a healthier child. New York: Penguin Group.