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Iron

What Is It?

Iron, a trace Mineral, supplies energy to every cell in the body. It is a key component of Hemoglobin, the blood’s oxygen-carrying pigment. Iron is also found in myoglobin, which supplies oxygen to muscles, and in compounds that keep the immune system strong. This mineral is critical to sharp mental functioning. Even slight deficiencies in iron can shorten attention span and make concentration difficult.

Normally, the body gets sufficient amounts of iron from the foods you eat. It manages to self-regulate itself, storing amounts you will need by automatically absorbing more iron when the need is high, and less when levels are adequate. Nonetheless, iron deficiency is still a significant public health problem. It can occur during periods of rapid growth–infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy–which increase the body’s demand for this mineral. In addition, women who menstruate heavily tend to have lower iron levels.

A chronically iron-poor diet or any condition characterized by prolonged bleeding (even of small amounts), such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, and rectal polyps, can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Many people develop this type of anemia, for instance, as a consequence of an NSAID-related ulcer, or one caused by months or years of regularly taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Government statistics indicate that 11% of women under age 50 and 9% of adolescents are iron-deficient. Dieters, some vegetarians, and endurance athletes may also develop iron deficiency due to the unique demands on their bodies.

Health Benefits

If iron-deficiency anemia develops, the body has to struggle to absorb sufficient amounts of oxygen. This is the most common type of anemia. At its most severe, however, or in the presence of certain other debilitating illnesses, iron-deficiency anemia can be life-threatening. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to treat.

If your doctor has diagnosed an iron deficiency, then iron supplements can help.

Specifically, iron may help to:

Correct iron-deficiency anemia. When iron stores are too low, the lack of oxygen produces debilitating fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Iron supplementation can correct the condition. (The underlying causes of bleeding should be medically treated as well, of course.) Bear in mind that a wide range of other medical conditions and other nutritional deficiencies, such as a shortage of folic acid, might also cause these symptoms. So never take iron supplements without medical advice.

Dosage Information

Special Tips:

–To boost the amount of iron your body absorbs, take the supplement with small amounts of meat or with foods and drinks rich in Vitamin C, such as broccoli or orange juice. For the same reasons, it’s also smart to take an iron supplement along with your daily multivitamin. Vitamin A and the trace mineral molybdenum also aid iron absorption.

–Have your doctor test your blood levels in a month or two; never take iron for more than six months without retesting, so that iron overload can be avoided.

For iron deficiency anemia, ask your doctor about the most appropriate dose for your needs.

Guidelines for Use

Take iron supplements with meals to minimize the chance of stomach upset. Taking the supplement with traditional breakfast foods may not be the best choice, however; even though vitamin C enhances iron absorption, coffee can interfere with it. Soy Protein isolates, often used in fruit “smoothies,” can also reduce iron absorption.

Calcium as well as large doses of chromium can interfere with iron absorption, so take these supplements at least two hours apart from iron.

General Interaction

Iron supplements can interfere with the action of a number of medications, including thyroid Hormone drugs, statins (to lower cholesterol), certain antibiotics, and various Parkinson’s disease drugs. So be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking in addition to your regular medications.

Possible Side Effects

Iron supplements can cause stools to become dark green or black in color; this is caused by any unabsorbed iron and is harmless.

Cautions

Doses of iron higher than the tolerable upper daily intake level (UL) of 45 mg can cause nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Very high doses can be fatal. As important as iron is to a healthy body, too much is not a good thing, either. You should only take supplemental iron if a blood test identifies a true deficiency. In an estimated one million Americans, an inherited (and often undetected) disorder called hemachromatosis is present, in which too much iron is absorbed. Iron overload such as this can contribute to health problems such as heart disease. Keep iron-containing supplements out of the reach of children. As few as five high-potency iron tablets can be fatal for a small child. Check the labels of any multivitamin and mineral supplements you take, and add up the amounts to be sure you’re not accumulating too much iron in your total daily intake.

For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.

Leave a Comment


  1. Tina Hepworth says:

    My ferritin is 16;iron sat%, 11; serum iron 37.Hb OK. I have considerable inflammation in my GI tract and some flecks of blood(per endoscopy) . I have been very fatigued for months, but my PCP and GI, say my iron’s fine because I’m not anemic, and it’s in the ‘normal range’! I am(was) very fit, BMI 24, eat a whole foods diet, exercise and..am post menopausal.
    I don’t think this is fine at all-it’s basically in the bottom 2.5% of the population and the next stage WILL be anemia if I don’t boost my iron stores, as they are virtually absent! Do you have any advice please-I keep getting told iron deficiency doesn’t cause symptoms, but, I know it does with me! Thank-you

  2. Dr E says:

    Iron depletion very definitely causes symptoms. This is more recognized in the UK than in the US. Here’s an article on the subject
    https://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Non-Anaemic-Iron-Deficiency.htm

  3. Kim says:

    My doctor says I’m mildly anemic due to heavy menstruation and recommended iron supplements. I had asked for an iron test (and thyroid & vitamin D) because of hair loss, dry scalp, brittle toenails, occasional insomnia, mood swings and low energy.

    My iron was normal (75 mcg/dl), iron saturation normal (19%). However, my RDW-CV high (16.1%), MCV low (78.4 fl), MCH low (24.4 pg), Hgb low (10.7 g/dL), Hct low (34.4%). Also, my Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy Total was 30.9 ng/mL which is in the normal range, but I have read that 50 is more optimal.

    I’m wondering if I actually have iron deficiency or B12 or folate deficiency because my iron & iron saturation levels were normal.

    Thoughts??

  4. Dr E says:

    Hi Kim
    Have your doctor check your levels of everything you mentioned AND check thyroid hormone levels as well (T3 T4 TSH thyroid antibodies)

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