What is Iron?
Iron is a mineral that promotes healthy red blood cells by aiding the hemoglobin, a protein found in the blood, to carry oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body. Hemoglobin needs 2/3 of your daily iron intake to run proficiently. If your blood is not getting enough oxygen the cells begin to suffocate, which leads to, among other problems, the fatigue you might be feeling.
Prolonged iron deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in later life, as well as fatigue, decreased memory, decreased immune function and it can impair mental capacity. According to Elaine Chottiner, MD, clinical assistant professor and director of General Hematology Clinics at the University of Michigan Medical Center, “Iron is necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.” Iron is also necessary to support metabolism, cellular function, and synthesis of some hormones.
If you have food sensitivities or stomach and intestinal problems, this can cause you to be deficient faster and longer if not monitored.
Women and children are among the highest risk groups for iron deficiency that can cause anemia. According to the Center for Disease Control, “iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States.” Iron deficiency is associated with poor diet, malabsorptive disorders, and blood loss.
Women need more iron then men because of losing blood through menstruation every month. Women between the ages of 19 – 50 should get at least 18 mg of iron daily and men need just 8 mg daily. When a woman begins menopause, her iron requirements drops down to 8mg from the lack of monthly periods.
Pregnant women need iron to carry oxygen to the baby’s brain, for the development of the baby’s muscles and to lower the risk of early birth and low birth weight.
TIPS FOR TAKING IRON CORRECTLY by the U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Iron is absorbed the best on an empty stomach. Yet, iron supplements can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea in some people. You may need to take iron with a small amount of food to avoid this problem.
- Milk, calcium and antacids should NOT be taken at the same time as iron supplements. You should wait at least 2 hours after having these foods before taking your iron supplements.
- Tell your health care provider about all the medicines you are taking.
- Iron tablets may cause other drugs you are taking to not work as well. Some of these include tetracycline, penicillin, and ciprofloxacin and drugs used for Parkinson’s disease and seizures.
- Wait at least 2 hours between doses of these drugs and iron supplements.
Foods that you should NOT eat at the same time as you take your iron include:
- High fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran
- Foods or drinks with caffeine
- Some doctors suggest taking a vitamin C supplement or drinking orange juice with your iron pill. This can help the iron absorb into your body. Drinking 8 ounces of fluid with an iron pill is also okay.
Dangers of Iron Overdose
Hemochromatosis (which is hereditary) is a common cause of iron overload, a condition that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron, which can be toxic. Excess iron is stored in organs and if untreated can cause organ damage, leading to health issues such as: heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver, arthritis, depression, and premature death.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Adults with normal intestinal function have very little risk of iron overload from dietary sources of iron. However, acute intakes of more than 20 mg/kg iron from supplements or medicines can lead to gastric upset, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and faintness, especially if food is not taken at the same time. Taking supplements containing 25 mg elemental iron or more can also reduce zinc absorption and plasma zinc concentrations. In severe cases (e.g., one-time ingestions of 60 mg/kg), overdoses of iron can lead to multi system organ failure, coma, convulsions, and even death.”
It is important to note that unless you have been tested for an iron deficiency, you should not take a supplement with iron unless specified by a doctor.
11 Ways to get MORE IRON for non-meat eaters:
4. Pine Nuts
7. Sweet Potatoes
10. Garbanzo Beans
11. Dark Green Leafy Veggies
*Vegans & Vegetarians need to pay special care making sure they are getting enough iron in their diets. Plant sourced iron is more difficult for body to absorb. The body absorbs meat based iron 2-3 times quicker than plant-based.
6 Ways to get MORE IRON for Meat Eaters:
3. Beef & Lamb