Winter and Anemia: How to Survive the Colder Months

Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. You should not use it to replace any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health issues. Any questions about your blood health should be directed toward a physician, hematologist, or other licensed healthcare professional.

The weather can affect our moods and our health—here’s what anemics and people with iron deficiency should know about cold temperatures. 

Even the hottest summer day can feel chilly for those with iron deficiency (remember that cold hands and feet are a symptom your hemoglobin levels are low). But with actual cold temperatures on the way, anemics start to feel even colder than they already are. 

Before you run to the blanket basket and grab yet another layer, there are better ways to make sure you stay nice and cozy until warmer temperatures are back for good. 

1. Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D 

Unless you have the luxury of escaping to some tropical paradise, or you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that’s like that 24/7, odds are you’re not going outside quite as often, which means you’re not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun. 

Low Vitamin D levels are associated with decreased iron absorption, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of this nutrient in other ways. You can speak with your physician about taking a Vitamin D supplement, or you can add these Vitamin D-rich foods to your diet: 

  • Salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna fish
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Dairy and plant-based milks fortified with vitamin D
  • Sardines
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Cod liver oil

2. Layer up

Yes, we know this one sounds a bit obvious but seriously make sure you’re wearing enough layers if you have to go outside this winter! That means hats around your ears, scarves, gloves, and, if necessary, an extra pair of pants. 

Not only does staying warm reduce the risk of hypothermia and other conditions, but it can also keep a relatively-unknown type of anemia at bay—Cold agglutinin disease, which affects 300,000 people every year. 

Cold agglutinin disease, sometimes called hemolytic anemia, is a condition that’s triggered by colder temperatures and causes red blood cells to destroy themselves. This happens because our body produces a type of antibody called cold agglutinins during the colder months. 

Antibodies typically attach themselves to bad things like bacteria and viruses, but cold agglutinins latch onto our red blood cells instead, causing them to disappear.

Fewer red blood cells equals lower hemoglobin levels, which can lead to anemia symptoms like: 

  • Chest pain
  • Cold hands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart failure
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

3. Eat More Iron 

OK, eating more iron won’t make you feel warmer—not necessarily at least. Again, one of the symptoms of iron deficiency is cold hands and feet. So if you eat more iron you’re less likely to experience cold limbs. 

Here are some of the most iron-rich foods you can put on your plate:

  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Oats
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Palm Hearts
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkin and flax seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms

Keep the cold away with AnemoCheck 

Tracking your hemoglobin levels is a great way to determine if you’re at risk for anemia or iron deficiency, which can make you feel colder than you actually are. By knowing your levels, you can make changes to your diet and lifestyle and warm up to the idea of better blood health anytime, anywhere. 

Click here to download the app via the iOS or Android app stores.

REFERENCES

Lee JA, Hwang JS, Hwang IT, Kim DH, Seo JH, Lim JS. Low vitamin D levels are associated with both iron deficiency and anemia in children and adolescents. Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2015;32(2):99-108. doi:10.3109/08880018.2014.983623

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