Question: Monique: When I went to the local blood bank to make a donation this week, the technician was concerned because I had a low hematocrit reading (39%) for a male of 55. Well, it was high enough to give blood but the lab person didn't give me any information as to what hematocrit is or why it could be important.
My research since then explains what it is and I have learned that it could be caused by a number of things including a diet deficient in iron, folicin, and B12. I have been a vegetarian 2 to 3 years and I have noticed that I am fatigued frequently. Could this be due to my diet or just that I am getting older? Any advice or suggestions? Don
Answer: A number of factors can cause fatigue: unbalanced diet, over exercising, lack of a good night's sleep, stress, a cold, flu, or mental attitude. It can also be a symptom of a more serious health problem, like hepatitis, mononucleosis, thyroid disease, or cancer.
A hematocrit is a measure of the number of red cells found in the blood, stated as a percentage of the total blood volume. The normal range for men is between 43% and 49% (for women it is between 37% and 43%). So while your hematocrit reading is low, it is not too far below the normal range.
I would suggest that you first make some slight dietary and lifestyle changes. Increase your intake of foods high in iron and folic acid (raisins and tempeh are high in iron; kale, spinach, and turnip greens are high in folic acid).
To help ensure you get enough B-12, put some nutritional yeast (a great non-animal source of vitamin B-12) in a shaker or an empty spice jar with a shaker top. Keep it handy at the table, and sprinkle it on everything you eat that is not sweet (soups, salads, pasta, beans, rice, sandwiches, broccoli, greens, popcorn and potatoes). Think of it as a vegetarian Parmesan cheese substitute. (If you eat eggs, you are probable not deficient in B-12.) You may also want to take a daily multi vitamin and mineral supplement.
Next, make sure you don't exercise too much or too little. Too much exercise and your muscles will not have time to recover, too little and they have to work harder to do normal activities. Also, make sure you are not sleeping too much or too little. Both can make you feel like you are dragging yourself through the day, strive to sleep between 6 and 8 hours a night. If you aren't sleeping as soundly as you used to, you may need to take a nap, but don't nap longer than 90 minutes.
Try to prioritize your daily activities, and don't pile up too many things in one day. Whatever doesn't get done today will go on the top of tomorrow's list of priorities. You may want to incorporate yoga into your daily routine to help reduce stress, promote proper breathing, improve your flexibility and focus your mind.
Lastly, you may want to try ginseng to help give you more energy, either as a tea, elixir or supplement. If, however, your tiredness persists even after trying these lifestyle and dietary changes, don't try to diagnose yourself. See a doctor to make sure it is not something more serious.
For more information about fatigue, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatigue_%28physical%29
The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
by Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis
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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.