The Anxiety-Anemia Connection

Sep 06, 2016

Although we often think of mental health issues as separate from the body, they’re very much linked Anemia, a condition caused by insufficient healthy red blood cells, seldom factors when we discuss anxiety — yet it should. The anxiety-anemia connection is so common, psychiatrists routinely check CBCs (complete blood counts) to rule out low hemoglobin when working with individuals suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Today I’ll address the relationship between the two, and what you can do to improve healthy red blood cell production.

The Anxiety-Anemia Connection

While anemia is not generally the cause of mental health issues, many symptoms of anemia may present as mental health-like in nature, including chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, energy loss, chest palpitations, insomnia and/or restless sleep, and so on. B12 levels only slightly lower than normal can lead to a range of symptoms as benign as fatigue and as severe as mania or psychosis. Anxiety is a complex beast with many possible root causes. But as low blood cell production may exacerbate symptoms or lead to “false” moods, it’s worth ruling out in all cases.

On the flip side, some individuals experience anxiety so severe that it may deplete pre-existing stores of essential vitamins and minerals, including iron and B12. This can lead to anemia and the worsening of symptoms. Though meditation, yoga, magnesium supplementation, essential oils, and other tools may be excellent for managing anxiety, it’s important to determine the root cause and bring the body’s systems into balance for optimal health.

Fortunately, we can support healthy red blood cell production, great mood, and resilience to life’s stressors by eating nutrient-dense foods!

How to Support Healthy Red Blood Cells

  • Eat foods rich in Vitamin C such as cabbage or sauerkraut, citrus fruits, and broccoli to promote absorption of iron.
  • Drink dandelion tea, which may help with iron absorption, or add dandelion greens to stews, soups, smoothies, and juices.
  • Avoid consuming dairy or foods rich in calcium alongside iron, as these two minerals compete for absorption by the small intestine.
  • Be mindful of coffee and black tea consumption, as they are known to interfere with iron absorption.
  • Eat a variety of iron-rich foods, such as raw cacao, lentils, beans, leafy greens, responsibly-caught clams, and grass-fed red meat. Ideally, legumes should be soaked and sprouted for best results.
  • Consume prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods daily to support healthy digestion, and/or take a high-quality supplement.
  • Remember to chew food thoroughly.
  • Eat foods rich in bioavailable vitamin B12, such as fermented foods, nori, nutritional yeast, responsibly-caught fish and shellfish, and pastured meats. While most algae is high in B12, it is considered a “pseudo” form and inactive in humans (chlorella is one possible exception.) Those who consume a predominantly plant-based diet are advised to supplement.
  • Finally, be certain to rule out underlying health issues, such as autoimmune conditions like Celiac’s disease and pernicious anemia.

For more information on the connection between mental and physical health, see our post on the connection between mental health and digestion.

By Sarah Berneche, RHN

Sarah is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Team Member at Village Juicery. While working in corporate advertising, she discovered Sarah Britton’s popular site, My New Roots, and knew she’d found her purpose; she immediately enrolled in nutrition school. After struggling for many years with her own mental health, Sarah now helps adult women find balance and access brain nirvana through a focus on stress, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating habits.