Your red blood cells serve as the primary transporters of oxygen throughout your body. Red blood cell dysfunction can lead to anemia, a condition in which your tissues fail to receive enough oxygen from your blood supply. While there are many types of anemia, two major types -- called pernicious and iron-deficiency anemia -- occur due to nutritional deficiencies.
Biology of Pernicious Anemia
Pernicious anemia typically develops as a result of vitamin B-12, or cobalamin, deficiency. It can occur due to insufficient vitamin B-12 consumption, or due to poor cobalamin absorption in your intestines. The deficiency prevents your body from generating hemoglobin, the protein that supports oxygen transport in your bloodstream. As a result, individuals with vitamin B-12 deficiency and pernicious anemia experience red blood cell dysfunction, leading to decreased oxygenation of tissues.
Biology of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
An iron deficiency can also disrupt hemoglobin function, causing iron-deficiency anemia. Each hemoglobin molecule contains four heme groups -- a molecular complex that contains one atom of iron. This iron can bind to oxygen molecules, and therefore carries out hemoglobin's primary function of oxygen transport. Failure to consume enough iron can disrupt hemoglobin production, leading to the presence fewer active heme groups in the bloodstream, a subsequent decrease in oxygen transport, and anemia.
Pernicious anemia and iron-deficiency anemia share similar symptoms, since both disorders lead to diminished hemoglobin function. Symptoms of these disorders include irritability, headaches and light-headedness because of the decrease in oxygen flow to the brain. People suffering from either type of anemia might also develop pale skin, weakness or fatigue. However, mild iron deficiency is often asymptomatic, and may lead to noticeable effects only when it has developed into severe anemia.
The treatments for iron-deficiency and pernicious anemia involve treating the underlying nutritional deficiency. Individuals suffering iron deficiency might take oral iron supplements and increase their dietary iron intake, while individuals suffering from pernicious anemia might receive vitamin B-12 injections or nasal spray to correct the vitamin deficiency. If you develop the symptoms of iron deficiency or pernicious anemia, seek medical attention -- while these symptoms can indicate nutritional deficiencies, other causes also produce symptoms similar to anemia. Consulting a physician allows you to identify the underlying disorder and pursue the correct treatment.