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:
Jan. 02, 2014
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 can also lead to a deficiency. Most nutrients from food are absorbed in your small intestine. People with diseases of the small intestine, such 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 (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. 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.
- Vitamin C deficiency anemia. 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.
- Lichtman MA, et al. Williams Hematology. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2010. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=69. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
- Papadakis MA, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2013. 52nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
- Schrier SL. Etiology and clinical manifestations of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
- Stabler SP. Vitamin B12 deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:149.
- Schrier SL. Diagnosis and treatment of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
- Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended intakes for individuals, vitamins. Institute of Medicine. http://iom.edu/Global/Search.aspx?q=dietary+reference+intakes+vitamin&output=xml_no_dtd&client=iom_frontend&site=iom&proxyreload=1&ie=UTF-8&ulang=&ip=220.127.116.11&access=p&sort=date:D:L:d1&entqr=3&entqrm=0&start=10. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.