Sickle Cell Disease
• Alpha-Linolenic Acid,
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder. Normally, red blood cells are disc-shaped and flexible. In sickle cell disease, however, hemoglobin (the chemical within red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body) is abnormal. This defect causes red blood cells to collapse into a crescent, or sickle, shape.
These abnormal blood cells are destroyed at an unusually high rate, causing a shortage of red blood cells (anemia). In addition, they can suddenly clump together and clog up small blood vessels throughout the body. This clumping causes what is called a sickle cell crisis.
When blood vessels are blocked by sickle-shaped red blood cells, parts of the body are deprived of oxygen. This can cause severe pain and damage to the organs and tissues that are deprived.
Common triggers of sickle cell crisis include smoking, exercise, exposure to high altitudes, fever, infection, dehydration, and the drop in oxygen or changes in air pressure that can occur during airplane travel.
Diagnosis of sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait (a condition in which a person has one of the two genes necessary to develop sickle cell disease) can be done through blood testing, using a technique called hemoglobin electrophoresis. Treatment involves managing the anemia, chronic pain, and organ damage caused by sickle cell disease. In addition, the drug hydroxyurea can reduce occurrences of sickle cell crisis. Of course, it is also important to minimize exposure to conditions or situations that can trigger sickle cell crisis.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Children with sickle cell disease often do not grow normally. Zinc deficiency can also cause growth retardation, and there is some evidence that people with sickle cell disease are more likely than others to be deficient in the mineral zinc
Zinc is thought to have a stabilizing effect on the cell membrane of red blood cells in people with sickle cell disease. For this reason, it has been tried as an aid for preventing sickle cell crisis. In a
Sickle cell disease can also cause skin ulcers (non-healing sores). In a 12-week, placebo-controlled trial, use of zinc at 88 mg 3 times per day for 12 weeks enhanced the rate of ulcer healing.
Warning: The high dosages of zinc used in the last two studies can cause dangerous toxicity, and should be taken—if at all—only under the supervision of a doctor. The nutritional dose described in the first study, however, is safe.
For more information, including detailed dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
A 1-year-long, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 82 people with sickle cell disease tested a combination herbal treatment made from plants indigenous to Nigeria. 28
A very small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found intriguing evidence that
Numerous other herbs and supplements have been suggested for people with sickle cell disease, including alpha-linolenic acid,
14. Jain SK, Williams DM. Reduced levels of plasma ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in sickle cell disease patients: its possible role in the oxidant damage to sickle cells in vitro. Clin Chim Acta. 1985;149:257–261.
17. Muskiet FA, Muskiet FD, Meiborg G, et al. Supplementation of patients with homozygous sickle cell disease with zinc, alpha-tocopherol, vitamin C, soybean oil, and fish oil. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;54:736–744.
29. Bao B, Prasad AS, Beck FW, et al. Zinc supplementation decreases oxidative stress, incidence of infection, and generation of inflammatory cytokines in sickle cell disease patients. Transl Res. 2008;152:67-80.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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