This great guest post was written by Jenny Robertson, a registered holistic nutritionist! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Iron is just one of the many key nutrients that are essential for life, it is an important mineral found mostly in the haemoglobin of red blood cells and in the myoglobin of muscle cells. It is needed for the transportation of oxygen and carbon dioxide and is an important part of enzyme systems as well as serving other important roles in our body.
A deficiency can be caused by many factors including insufficient diet, blood loss, hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal illnesses such as chrohns and colitis and it can cause a whole host of symptoms including fatigue, constipation, dizziness, headaches, dry skin, brittle nails and a pale face.
Iron supplements can become necessary to correct low levels but there are some key factors to consider before selecting and incorporating one into your routine.
Iron Supplementation Is Not For Everyone
As essential as iron is, there is no need to supplement unless lab tests have indicated that your iron stores are low. You should only be adding a supplement if your health care professional has determined a need and recommended or prescribed its use. In fact because our body has no means of excreting the excess, supplementing when not required can be dangerous; it can harm tissue, cause damage to our liver and heart and affect the absorption of other important minerals like zinc and calcium.
Not All Forms Of Iron Are Absorbed Equally
We do not absorb iron very well; in fact the absorption of some forms can be as low as 3-10% making it extremely difficult to ensure that our low levels are being corrected.
For this reason it becomes important that we are selecting an organic form that is better absorbed such as ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate and ferrous bisglycinate. There are several good products available to choose from, including:
Ortho-Iron by AOR (contains a patented form of Iron SunActiveFe- ferric pyrophosphate)
Floradix Formula by Floradix/Salus (organic Iron supplement containing ferrous gluconate, it is highly soluble and is combined with B Vitamins and Vitamin C for maximum absorption)
Iron Complex by Now (provides 27mg of elemental iron in the active bisclycinate form plus added Vitamin C, folic acid and red raspberry to optimize absorption.
Iron Solution by Prairie Naturals (highly absorbable ferrous gluconate and ferrous lactate)
Iron Bisglycinate by Thorne Research (25mg of elemental iron per capsule, highly absorbable without the gastrointestinal problems of many iron supplements)
Supplementation Strengths Can Be Deceiving
Iron needs vary depending on our age and sex; The RDA (U.S) recommend the following daily requirements of elemental (or actual iron):
Infants (birth to 6 months of age): 6-10 mg
Children (4-6 years): 10 mg
Children (7-10 years): 10 mg
Adolescent and Adult Males: 10 mg
Adolescent and Adult Females: 10-15 mg
Pregnant Females: 30 mg
Breast-feeding Females: 15 mg
If you compare the above values to the strengths listed on the various supplement choices provided you may be left thinking that you are exceeding the daily requirements.
For example, if you look at the label on Iron Complex by Now there is 158 mg as ferrous bisglycinate with 27mg of elemental (or actual) iron that is substantially higher then the recommended daily values above.
Despite the fact that these supplements are formulated for better absorbability, our body will still absorb only a limited amount of the available elemental iron so when taken as directed we will be helping to correct a deficiency without the risk of excessive levels.
Other Strategies That Will Aid Absorption
Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron so increasing your consumption of Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits; kiwi, strawberries and cantaloupe as well as vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes and leafy greens will increase absorbability.
Vitamin A and beta-carotene can improve iron absorption; increasing your consumption of sweet potato, yellow squash, pumpkin, red pepper, apricot and tomatoes can help.
B Vitamins such as riboflavin, B6 and B12 can improve absorbability; adding a B Complex supplement and increasing the consumption of B rich foods such as legumes, spinach, leafy greens, nuts, carrots, eggs, sunflower seeds, shellfish and seafood can help.
Calcium can interfere with the absorption of iron so taking your calcium supplementation at a different time then your iron supplement is important as well as avoiding taking your iron supplement with milk, calcium-enriched juices or mineral water.
Tannins found in teas and wine as well as phytic acid found in grains can interfere with the absorption of iron so limiting these items is helpful.
Due to the low absorption rate of iron it is important that we do everything we can to help improve the rate and correct low levels. It is also important that we are having our levels re-checked by our health care professional to ensure that A) our low levels are being corrected and that B) we are not continuing to take supplementation when it is no longer required.
It is also important, regardless of low iron levels or not, that we are eating a well balanced diet of natural, nutrient dense food items for our overall health and wellness. Fresh, local, in-season and natural food items should make up the majority of our dietary plan.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
PubMed: New property of vitamin A and beta-carotene on human iron absorption: effect on phytate and polyphenols as inhibitors of iron absorption.
WebMD: Dietary Iron and Iron Supplements
PubMed: The role of vitamins in the prevention and control of anemia.
Clinical Correlations: Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Guide to Oral Iron Supplements