Nutritional deficiency anemia: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Anemia is a common condition that results from a lack of certain vitamins and minerals. Not consuming a balanced diet can lead to a deficiency, or malnutrition.

Anemia affects over 30 percent of the world’s population. It is most severe among pregnant women and in children.

A range of health problems can arise from nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional deficiency anemia can lead to a low red blood cell count, low hemoglobin in the red blood cells, or red blood cells that do not function as they should.

Nutritional deficiency anemia mainly results from a lack of iron, but a lack of folate or vitamin B12 can also cause anemia, and a low vitamin C intake can contribute.

Nutritional deficiency anemia can happen because of a lack of nutrients in the diet or because of an illness or medical condition that make it hard to absorb nutrients.

Fast facts on nutritional deficiency anemia:

Here are some key points about nutritional deficiency anemia. More detail is in the main article.

Iron-deficiency anemia can happen when a person does not have enough iron in the diet, or if they have a condition that makes it hard to absorb nutrients.

It can lead to a low level of red blood cells.

Vitamin-deficiency anemia happens when a person does not consume or absorb enough vitamin B12, or B9, also known as folate.

It can cause red blood cells to be an unusual shape, so that they cannot function properly.

Nutritional deficiency anemia can affect a wide range of bodily functions.

The main way to treat or prevent it is through a healthful diet.

Iron-deficiency anemia

A lack of iron or some B vitamins can lead to anemia.
A lack of iron or some B vitamins can lead to anemia.

Anemia resulting from iron deficiency is considered one of the top 10 contributors to the global burden of disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) describe iron-deficiency anemia as “the most common and widespread nutritional deficiency in the world.”

In 2011, the WHO estimated that, globally, anemia affects 43 percent children up to the age of 5 years, 38 percent of women during pregnancy, and 29 percent of women who are not pregnant.

In iron-deficiency anemia, the red cells appear abnormal and are unusually small (microcytic) and pale (hypochromic). The pallor of the red cells reflects their low hemoglobin content.

A person with iron-deficiency anemia often has:

pale skin

fatigue and lack of energy

shortness of breath

heart palpitations, or irregular heart beat

Other symptoms include:



changes to the sense of taste

feeling itchy

a desire to eat ice, known as pica

sores or ulcers at the corner of the mouth

sore tongue

hair loss

spoon-shaped fingernails and toenails

difficulty swallowing


missed menstruation in women during their reproductive years

Iron-deficiency anemia is common in people who:

consume little iron in their diet

have a condition that prevents the body from absorbing nutrients

have a stomach ulcer, heavy menstruation, or another cause of bleeding

have a genetic disorder, such as sickle cell anemia or another health condition, such as malaria

Iron deficiency and diet

Iron-deficiency anemia can result from a lack of iron in the diet. During pregnancy, for example, women need more iron to supply the fetus. If they do not take in enough, this may lead to a dietary deficiency anemia.

Heme iron is the most bioavailable form of iron and is found only in meat. Non-heme iron is found in plant based foods and is not as easily absorbed. Vegetarians and vegans need to be mindful of their iron intake to ensure they are meeting their needs.

A lack of vitamin C in the diet can reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron, leading to anemia.

Iron-deficiency anemia can affect a person’s overall health and their ability to function at work and in their daily routine.

Vitamin-deficiency anemia

Vitamin-deficiency anemias can result from deficiencies in folate (vitamin B9) or vitamin B12.

When the intake of these nutrients is low, or if the body is not absorbing them properly, red blood cells may become too large or adequate amounts of red blood cells are not produced.

This is called megaloblastic anemia.

A person with vitamin-deficiency anemia may experience:

Symptoms of anemia include dizziness and fatigue.
Symptoms of anemia include dizziness and fatigue.

fatigue and lack of energy

tingling, or pins and needles

muscle weakness

a sore, red tongue

mouth ulcers

visual disturbance

depression and confusion

problems with concentration, thinking, and memory

Long-term complications include:

nervous system disorders, which may be permanent

infertility, which is usually reversible

heart problems, and possible heart failure

complications during pregnancy

congenital disorders in newborns

Everything you need to know about anemiaEverything you need to know about anemia
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Some people have low levels of the necessary nutrients because of:

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