Iron is a mineral critical for the growth of all cells. It is needed to help our red blood cells deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Almost 2/3 of the body's iron is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells. Iron deficiency is the leading single nutritional deficiency in the world, and the most common cause of anemia in the US.
Iron in Our Diet
There are 2 forms of dietary iron. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal foods, such as red meats, fish, and poultry. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods, such as lentils, beans, and fortified cereals and this is the main source of dietary iron. The recommended dietary allowances differ according to sex and age. Male teens ages 14 to 18 years require 11mg/day, where as, females of the same age require 15mg/day. Males ages 19 to 50 years require less iron, 8mg/day with similarly aged females needing much more at 18mg/day. Both males and females over 50 years of age require 8mg/day and pregnant women need 27mg/day.
Are You at Risk of iron Deficiency?
The main causes of iron deficiency are not getting enough in your diet, increased iron needs, poor absorption of iron, and blood loss. people prone to iron deficiency include athletes due to increased physical demands that stimulate red blood cell production. Young women often do not get enough iron from dietary intake to offset menstrual losses. Pregnancy increases the need for iron by the mother and the fetus. Vegetarians are at risk of iron deficiency because they only eat plant based foods.
Symptoms of Iron deficiency?
Fatigue, decreased performance at work or school. feeling cold, impaired immune function, shortness of breath and chest pains are some symptoms of iron deficiency. Some people may experience no symptoms so a blood test and a doctor's assessment are recommended to properly diagnose iron deficiency.
There are different formulations of iron available OTC. These include ferrous sulfate, carbonyl iron, and heme-based iron. The different formulations vary in absorption and side effects. The most common side effects are Nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. Ferrous sulfate is the most common form. It contains 65mg of elemental iron which equals a 325mg tablet. It provides 360% of RDA making it a high potency option. carbonyl iron is a pure form of iron (Feosol Natural Release) which is gentle on the system and a more well tolerated option. It contains 45mg of iron, which provides 250% of the RDA. Feosol Complete with Bifera contains heme and non-heme iron; is gentler on the system minimizing GI side effects. It contains 28mg of iron, 22mg as an iron complex, and 6mg as a heme iron poly peptide and provides 155% of the RDA. This formulation can be taken with or without food.
A multivitamin does not have sufficient amounts of iron to treat a deficiency. Also other minerals present in multivitamins such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium, can impair the absorption of iron and should be taken hours before or after iron supplementation. Several foods, beverages and medications can also affect iron absorption. coffee, tea ,milk, cereals, fiber and carbonated beverages can inhibit iron absorption so less iron gets in your system. Antacids, histamine blockers like Zantac or Pepcid and proton pump inhibitors like Omeprazole, Nexium, and Prevacid can also inhibit iron absorption. On the contrary, tomato sauce and other acidic foods, vitamin C and taking iron on an empty stomach are all factors that can enhance the absorption of iron and get you the highest levels possible of absorption.
You should not take iron supplements without first consulting a pharmacist or physician and receiving a diagnosis. Pharmacists can help in the selection of the best iron product/ formulation and answer questions. Always inform your pharmacist if you are taking any medications or other supplements as they may influence the absorption of iron or specific medications such as quinolone antibiotics like Cipro or Avelox and tetracycline antibiotics.