Sickle cell anemia is the most common inherited blood disorder in America, affecting almost 72,000 individuals, as of 2014. The disease is widespread among African-American communities, and also affects people of Hispanic, Greek, Turkish, Arab, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese ethnicity. Treating sickle cell anemia includes getting the right nutrients, particularly folic acid, to help manage the effects and complications of this life-long disease.
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Red Blood Cell Effects
Sickle cell anemia warps your red blood cells, causing them to become crescent-shaped instead of round -- and more prone to clumping together in your blood vessels. This life-long condition gives you lower amounts of red blood cells, because the sickle cells die quickly -- in only about 10 to 20 day, while healthy red blood cells live for 120 days. The bone marrow cannot keep up with your body's demand and uses up certain nutrients quickly to make new red blood cells. The blood clots and low red blood cell levels cause pain, severe infections and chronic anemia.
Folic Acid Function
Folic acid, which is also known as folate and vitamin B-9, is an essential nutrient that helps produce red blood cells in your bone marrow. A 2008 study published in the journal "Pharmacy and Therapeutics" reported that folic acid levels are quickly depleted in patients with sickle cell anemia because red blood cells die too quickly. The National Institutes of Health advises that individuals with this disease should take folic acid supplements.
Amounts For Sickle Cell Anemia
Folic acid is an essential vitamin that must be part of your daily diet. If you have sickle cell anemia, you need higher doses of this nutrient to help improve your red blood cell counts. The North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation recommends getting 400 to 1,000 micrograms of folic acid per day to help prevent a deficiency. Your doctor can advise how much folic acid you require.
Other Causes of Deficiency
A folic acid deficiency can be caused or worsened by conditions other than sickle cell anemia. The Linus Pauling Institute notes that a deficiency can develop relatively quickly from a poor diet or a period of illness or infection. Additionally, alcoholism diminishes your body's ability to absorb folic acid. Other causes include pregnancy, cancer and reactions to certain medications.
Folic Acid Food Sources
If you have sickle cell anemia, eating a daily balanced diet is an important part of managing symptoms and your overall health. Your doctor or nutritionist may recommend a folic acid supplement in addition to the right nutrition. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, good sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, legumes, orange juice and fortified cereals.