Can Anemia Make You Lose Weight?

The number of people who struggle with anemia is truly staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 44 million Americans have the disease, which affects the production of blood and therefore, one’s appearance. Anemia is classified as a ‘dietary deficiency disorder’ and can mainly be caused by a lack of iron in the diet. This means that the body is not absorbing enough nutrients, resulting in poor blood production and subsequently, a grimmer complexion.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have people who enjoy a healthy, vibrant appearance and are thus, motivated to do anything to maintain it. These individuals are known as the ‘anorexic’ population and, according to the Society for the Advancement of Anorexia Nervosa, the number of individuals who are under the influence of this eating disorder is growing. Moreover, this group is actively looking for ways to improve their health condition and one avenue may be to rekindle their passion for food through a healthy diet.

So, what exactly is a healthy diet in regards to anemia? A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that adding more fiber, vitamins, and minerals to the diet can help improve the condition. Moreover, the study authors suggest consuming more natural foods instead of processed foods when possible.

Let’s take a closer look at how anemia can make you lose weight and what you need to know about this connection.

How Does Anemia Make You Lose Weight?

As we’ve established, in most cases, anemia causes people to lose weight and suffer from poor blood production. This, in turn, affects the body’s ability to maintain a healthy, shiny complexion. In general, anemia causes your hair to grow more slowly, nails to become brittle, and skin to wrinkle as you age. Moreover, a low oxygen state in the body promotes the development of chronic diseases.

In the same way, the lack of nutrients in your diet prevents your body from generating new blood vessels and maintaining a healthy blood flow throughout the circulatory system. This means you’re not just limited to looking dull; you could also be at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health complications.

While there’s no question that anemia can make you lose weight, it’s not always the case. For instance, hereditary spherocytosis, anemia due to blood loss, and some forms of anemia due to chronic kidney disease do not affect the color of your skin or your appetite.

Anemia’s Connection To Appetite

As we’ve noted, in most cases, people with anemia lose weight. However, this is not always the case. According to Dr. Stephen Hahn, an expert in medical nutrition therapy and director of the Hahn Center for Weight Loss and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, there are some conditions that can trigger an increase in appetite, even in people with anemia. He suggests these conditions include:

  • blood loss
  • anaemia of any kind
  • gastrointestinal conditions (such as IBS or a functional bowel disorder)
  • stress
  • thyroid problems
  • and more…

One of the most common causes of anemia is iron deficiency. And what is iron deficiency? Simply put, it’s when the body does not produce enough ‘bodies’ in the blood to carry out daily functions. This leads to a decreased tolerance for food (particularly red meat) and a subsequent loss of appetite. Similarly, blood loss in any form, including that which occurs during menstruation or childbirth, causes appetite fluctuations and eventually, weight loss. (3)

In terms of thyroid problems and appetite, the link is again, iron. If the thyroid is underactive, it does not produce enough hormones and therefore, inhibits the production of red blood cells. This means that although you may have anemia, you may also have low thyroid function, which leads to an increased appetite. Conversely, if the thyroid is overactive, it can cause decreased appetite and even weight gain.

How Does Anemia Make You Lose Weight?

The preceding section provided some insight into how anemia can make you lose weight. Now, let’s look at some of the different ways in which this connection exists.

Anemia As A Pre-Disease State

As already noted, in most cases, people with anemia lose weight due to low oxygen levels in the body. However, it’s not just the low oxygen levels that affect your appearance; the anemia itself can cause your skin to wrinkle and yellow, as well as make you look thinner. This is particularly evident in the case of people who have hemophilia, anemia due to blood loss, or who frequently lose blood. As a result, they have to replace it and thus, maintain a healthy coloration.

Anemia As A Symptom Of A Wider Disease

If you’re not sure whether or not anemia is a problem for you, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor or a specialist. In some cases, anemia is a symptom of a much wider disease and, in these cases, it can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause of the problem. Moreover, in these cases, treatment for the anemia itself may be necessary, in addition to that for the underlying condition. The following are some of the more common causes of anemia and the specific symptoms you might experience, if you’re experiencing them:

  • iron deficiency
  • multiple myeloma
  • leukemia
  • lymphoma
  • aplastic anemia
  • sickle cell anemia
  • myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
  • renal cell carcinoma
  • chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • and more…

In each case, the specific symptoms of the disease or disorder will guide your treatment and diet, as well as inform you of the possible complications that may arise. Moreover, sometimes, the treatment for one disease can exacerbate the symptoms of another. For example, long-term treatment for leukemia can cause the bone marrow to become depleted and therefore, leave you more susceptible to infections. This is why it’s important to be educated about your disease conditions and the complications that can arise.

Anemia As A Warning Sign For Cardiovascular Disease

In addition to looking dull and thin, you may also experience palpitations, or rapid heart beats in conjunction with anemia. This, in turn, can put you at risk of heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, you can take steps to lower your risk of these complications. According to the American Heart Association, if you’re experiencing symptoms of palpitations, rapid heart beats, or lightheadedness, you should consult your doctor. Moreover, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following tests:

  • a stress test
  • an EKG (electrocardiogram)
  • a simple blood pressure test
  • and more…
  • If one or more of these tests reveal that you’re at risk of cardiovascular disease, your doctor may prescribe medication (such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers) or suggest lifestyle changes (such as weight loss, exercise, or moderating your alcohol intake).

In summary, anemia is a serious condition that can affect people of all ages and genders. Moreover, this dietary deficiency disorder is common and can be attributed to a number of causes, some of which may be more prevalent than others. If you’re not sure whether or not anemia is a problem for you, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor or a specialist. In some cases, anemia is a symptom of a much wider disease and, in these cases, it can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause of the problem. In most cases, blood loss in any form, including that caused by blood transfusions or a high-quality diet, causes appetite fluctuations and eventually, weight loss. Ultimately, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help restore your natural glow and promote healthy blood production.