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A professor of haematology and transfusion medicine, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, and consultant haematologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Sulaimon Akanmu, tells Arukaino Umukoro about the use of products, popularly referred to as ‘blood tonics’

According to the World Health Organisation, 80 per cent of the world’s population suffer from iron deficiency, with 30 per cent termed as being anaemic. There are no available statistics for Nigeria presently.

The major function of the blood to the human body is that it collects and delivers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues via an important protein component called the haemoglobin in the red blood cell. The absence of the red cells and therefore haemoglobin means oxygen will not get to the body tissues, like the heart or the brain, which means the life span of a person can end within 180 minutes. Without blood collecting and delivering oxygen to the tissues, there is no life. Secondly, major function of the blood is to transport rich metabolic products such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide throughout the body. Also, the white blood cells provide the body with a lot of immunity. It helps the body to fight a variety of infection such as, fungal, bacterial or parasitic  and infectious diseases. The blood also helps the body to heal properly.

What does it mean when someone is said to have a shortage of blood?

When one begins to see the symptoms of a shortage of blood, then the level of shortage may be much. By definition, an individual is said to have a shortage of blood if the amount of haemoglobin that is derived from a 100ml of blood is less than 10 grammes. Thus, that individual is said to be anaemic.

Who are those who need blood tonic most?

There is nothing like blood tonic, I think it is just a common, general-used term. But the term ‘blood tonic’ is alien to scientific medicine. If you are talking about iron deficiency as a cause of anaemia, I can talk about the need for iron replacement therapy. Anybody that has been diagnosed to have iron deficiency need iron replacement therapy.

What then should be used to describe what is commonly referred to as blood tonics?

They are basically multivitamins. Multivitamins help the enzymes in the body to function properly. All chemical reactions in the body are enzyme-dependent and enzymes require co-enzymes to function. They are useful to the body, but the idea that it is a blood tonic is misleading, because it does not boost the blood.

What do these blood tonics really do for the body?

All I can say is that they are not poisonous. I know these so-called blood tonics have multivitamins and minerals which may include iron, copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, selenium and vitamins like vitamins A, D, B6, 9 and D12. These vital components are contained in such a low level that an excess intake of it is unlikely to cause any damage to the body.

What is your advice to people who buy ‘blood tonics’ for the specific purpose of boosting their blood levels?

The public needs to be properly enlightened on this. Firstly, they should understand that the blood is not toned, so there is nothing like a ‘blood tonic.’ Secondly, people shouldn’t think that buying these so-called ‘blood tonic’ is able to correct the feelings of tiredness or weakness. Instead, they should find out the causes of their tiredness or weakness, and if it is proven that it is truly as a result of a shortage of blood, then it needs to be investigated medically and they should get direct treatment from a medical doctor. A lot of people have iron deficiency as the cause of shortage of blood and the answer to that is not blood tonic, but iron replacement therapy.

Are there natural food products to use instead of ‘blood tonics’?

If an individual truly has a shortage of blood, eating a particular kind of diet may not totally help in replacing it. However, that does not take away the fact that the reason why one may have a shortage of blood could be inadequate dietary intake. A number of people may actually develop a shortage of blood if they do not eat well. Some people deliberately don’t take the right food and so may become iron deficient.

For example, pregnant women would require more iron intake into their body not to develop anaemia caused by iron deficiency. In this scenario, a dietary supplement is very important.


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