Because Crohn’s compromises the efficiency of the digestive system, sufferers can become malnourished during flare-ups. Malnourishment can cause a host of other health problems, but one of the most common conditions associated with Crohn’s disease is anemia.
Crohn’s-related anemia is most frequently caused by a deficiency in iron, magnesium, folate, and/or vitamin B-12—all nutrients that help the body manufacture red blood cells. When the body does not have an adequate supply of these nutrients, it cannot manufacture enough healthy red blood cells to supply its tissues with the oxygen they need to function properly.
Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms of anemia can include fatigue, irritability, weakness, dark under-eye circles, headaches, blue discoloration of the eyes, dizziness and/or fainting, pallor, shortness of breath, sore tongue, and low blood pressure. In its most extreme cases, anemia can make blood pressure so low that it fails to supply the heart with an adequate oxygen supply, causing a heart attack.
The section below gives an overview of the nutritional deficiencies that can lead to anemia, and a list of foods you can increase in your diet to build your defenses against anemia, even in the case of a Crohn’s flare-up.
Crohn’s and Iron deficiency
Iron is essential to the circulation of oxygen through the blood. Iron molecules partner with proteins in the body to form hemoglobin—the substance in red blood cells that carries and distributes oxygen through the blood stream and into virtually every tissue of the body. When iron intake or absorption is compromised, the body may not receive enough iron to manufacture hemoglobin. As a result, the body’s various tissues may not receive enough oxygen, causing dizziness, fatigue, and reduced immunity, among others, and potentially leading to anemia.
Those with Crohn’s disease must be especially aware of their iron intake. It is important for those affected by this disease to eat a diet rich in iron to ensure they will have enough iron in their system to carry them through periods of malabsorption caused by flare-ups.
Foods rich in iron include spinach and other dark, leafy greens like chard and kale, spices like thyme, cumin, parsley, and basil, asparagus, legumes like soybeans, lima beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, tofu, and beets, among others. Research has also shown that iron absorption is increased when combined with vitamin C. Pair any of the these foods with citrus, strawberries, bell peppers, or pineapple to maximize iron absorption.
Crohn’s and Magnesium Deficiency
When ingested into the body, magnesium becomes an ion that signals the beginning of a wide variety of biological processes, both within and between cells. It is especially important to the neuromuscular system, as it plays a direct role in triggering both the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Magnesium also works to strengthen bones along with calcium. A magnesium deficiency can hinder the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle spasms, fatigue, and feelings of weakness.
Like with iron, those with Crohn’s disease must be sure to eat a diet rich in magnesium to prepare them for periods of malabsorption that accompany flare-ups.
Foods high in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, and almonds.
Crohn’s and folate
Folate is a B-Vitamin that plays many roles within the body. It is used in the production of DNA and RNA molecules, which serve as the building blocks for all cells and prompt cell division and regeneration. Folate is especially helpful in producing new red blood cells.
A deficiency in folate can result in irritability, depression, dental problems, mental fog, fatigue, and/or muscular problems. If left untreated, folate deficiency can decrease the amount of red blood cells in the circulatory system, potentially resulting in anemia.
To avoid folate deficiency and folate-related anemia, think beans and greens. Lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, spinach, chard, and turnip greens all contain significant amounts of the nutrient.
Fibrous foods and Flare-Ups
If you suffer from Crohn’s, it is important to remember that while all the foods listed contain helpful nutrients that offset the risk of nutrient deficiency and anemia, their fibrous texture can be tough on the digestive system—and might potentially prompt a flare-up. To ingest all of the naturally nourishing nutrients contained in these iron, magnesium, and folate-rich foods without the unnecessary digestive strain, extract them in the NutriBullet! The NutriBullet essentially predigests your fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds for you, so your system can save its energies for maximum absorption.
Click here for one of our favorite Crohn recipes.