A study published in the Canadian Medial Association Journal, suggests patients with anemia due to chronic disease are being dangerously overtreated. Anemia may actually help heal the body rather than harm it, says the new study.
Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, the study's co-author and a scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, feels that doctors have been taught for generations that anemia is bad and they want to help their patients by treating it. However, they failed to consider that anemia may be adaptive and may be exactly the response that the body needs at that time.
Tired blood (anemia) involves a shortage of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body tissues. In the past, blood transfusions were the only way to treat anemia, until a drug derived from erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates bone-marrow cells to produce red-blood cells.
Dr. Zarychanski pointed to evidence that suggests anemia is an evolutionary response to illness occuring in humans. The body has adapted over thousands of years to be anemic at times of stress because it needs to conserve energy. It needs help to fight infection. And when you're anemic, bacteria doesn't grow so well in the blood (an evolutionary response to infection before antibiotics).
In general, healthy adults have red blood cell levels of 14 grams or more per 100 millilitres of blood, while patients are considered to need treatment if their levels are below 10 grams. Patients with mild to moderate anemia (those with levels between 10 and 14 grams) would be better off not being treated.
What Dr. Zarychanski argues is that we should exercise some caution when thinking the best treatment is to automatically transfuse or give drugs to correct anemia.
Source: Ottawa Health Research Institute