Anaemia is the most common blood disorder of childhood and is widely prevalent early in life. It denotes a shortage of rich red blood cells and colouring matter called haemoglobin. The disease is more often frequent in premature infants, in twins or in infants whose mothers had an inadequate diet during pregnancy.
Blood carries oxygen essential to the tissues. It also carries away waste-products to be dealt with through the body’s excretory systems. So any problems affecting the blood will also affect the smooth functioning of the whole body. Anaemia is one such problem.
Haemoglobin is a red respiratory protein of RBC consisting of 6 per cent haem (Iron) and 94 per cent globin which is a sulphur containing protein that transports oxygen from lungs to tissues where it is released. Thus the formation of haemoglobin depends upon adequate supply of iron and protein.
A haggard look, grayish skin, and dull and tired looking eyes are the main symptoms of anaemia. Other symptoms include poor memory, weakness, dizziness, tiredness, lack of energy, shortness of breath on exertion, headaches and impairment of general health and vitality.
A quick and reliable way to test whether a child is anaemic is to look at the inside of his lips, the tissue lining his eyes, i.e. conjunctiva, the palms and his finger nails. If all of these are pale, he may very well be anaemic. The only sure way to diagnose anemia, however, is to test the sample of blood in the laboratory. This will establish the degree of anaemia.
There are three principal cause of anaemia. It can result from reduced or low formation of red blood cells either due to defects in the bone marrow or an inadeqaute intake of iron, vitamins and protein or due to excessive destruction of RBC or haemoglobin. A lack of digestive acid or hydrochloric acid is needed for digestion of iron and proteins may also result in anaemia. Other little-known causes of anaemia are intestinal parasites or worms which feed on the blood supply. The factors which contribute to frequency of anaemia in early life are prolonged feeding of milk low birth weight, nutritional anaemia in the mother and malabsorption.
A young child who suffers repeated infections of any kind may also become anaemic, because infections interfere with the absorption and use of iron in the body. These effects, coupled with a poor appetite during the course of the chronic infection, can deplete stocks of iron.
Diet is of utmost importance in the treatment of anaemia. Almost every nutrient is needed for the production of red blood cells, haemoglobin and the enzymes required for their synthesis. Refined food like white bread, polished rice, sugar, and desserts rob the body of the much-needed iron. Iron should always be taken in its natural organic form. The common foods rich in natural organic iron are wheat and wheat grain cereals, brown rice and rice polishings, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, carrot, celery, beets, tomatoes, spinach, fruits like apples, berries, cherries, grapes, raisins, figs, dates, peas and peaches. The diet should also be adequate in proteins of high biological value such as those found in milk, cheese and egg.
Vitamin B12 is must for preventing anaemia. This vitamin is usually found in animal protein and especially in orgnic meats like kidney and liver. A heavy meat diet is often associated with a high haemoglobin and high red cell count, but it has its disadvantages. One cause of anaemia is intestinal putrefaction, which is primarily brought on by a high meat diet. There are, however, other equally good alternatives sources of vitamin B12 such as dairy products, like milk, eggs, and cheese, peanuts. Soyabeans also contains some amount of vitamin B12.
For prevention of anaemia, it is essential to take the entire B complex range which includes B12, present in the natural foods mentioned above. Eating lacto-avo products, which are complete proteins, and which also contain vitamin B12, is a good insurance against the disease.
Mention must be made of beets which are extremely important in treating anaemia. Beet juice contains potassium,phosphorous, calcium, sulphur, iodine, iron, copper, carbohydrates, fat, protein, virtamins B1, B2, niacin, B6, C and vitamin P. With its high iron content, beet juice regenerates and reactivates the red blood cells, supplies the body with fresh oxygen and helps in performing the normal function of the organs.
A cold water bath is among the most valuable secondary curative measures in anaemia and the child-patient should be encouraged to take this bath twice daily. Cold friction for five to 10 minutes once a week is also useful. Full sun baths are especially beneficial as sunlight stimulates the production of red cells. Deep breathing exercises are also valuable in the treatment of anaemia.