Nutritional deficiencies can cause anemia; if you are anemic, your lab tests show a low MCH, or mean corpuscular hemoglobin, and low MCHC, or mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration. MCH and MCHC are used to diagnose anemia and can help determine what kind of anemia you have. Although a well-balanced diet helps prevent anemia and low MCH or MCHC, some medical conditions can cause anemia even if you eat a good diet.
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Your red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen from your lungs to your body cells. A lab test called the complete blood count, or CBC, measures the amount of hemoglobin in each red blood cell -- the MCH. The MCHC measures the amount of hemoglobin in each red blood cell in relation to the size of the cell. If your hemoglobin is low, your body cells do not receive adequate oxygen. A normal adult MCH is 27 to 31 picograms per cell and a normal adult MCHC is 32 to 36 grams per deciliter.
Your body needs iron to manufacture hemoglobin. When your intake of iron is inadequate for your daily needs, iron deficiency anemia results and can cause a low MCH or MCHC. Although iron supplementation is an option for iron deficiency anemia, you also may be able to improve your iron intake by eating more iron-rich foods. Foods high in iron include eggs, meat and leafy green vegetables. Other good sources of iron are dried fruits, beans, peas and iron-fortified foods such as bread, cereals and pasta.
Foods that are rich in vitamin C can help you absorb iron better if you eat or drink them with iron-containing foods. High vitamin C foods include citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. Celiac disease prevents absorption of iron, while gastric surgery also can cause impaired absorption, especially if the intestines are surgically shortened. People who are unable to absorb iron from dietary sources may need iron injections.
Vitamin deficiencies are another source of low MCH or MCHC. A deficiency in folate, one of the B vitamins, can cause anemia. Your body does not store very much folate, and if you don’t eat foods high in folate every few days, you may develop low folic acid levels and become anemic. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, meats, liver, wheat bran and whole grains. Vitamin B12 is another B vitamin found in meats and dairy products that can cause anemia when it is deficient.
Considerations and Warnings
Anemia can make you short of breath; you may tire easily, have pale skin, headaches, dizziness or a fast heartbeat. Anemia also may be a symptom of a serious problem such as cancer. If you think that you have anemia or that your diet may be low in iron or vitamins, consult a health care professional.