Today we separate the truth from the fiction when it comes to taking iron. You should come away clear about what you can do to improve your iron absorption.
Why 7-11 (and not 411)? Because we will clear up 7 confusions and provide 11 solutions.
When we find out we are low in iron, or someone that we care for is low in iron, we might start consulting Dr. Google, as one does. We might find interesting facts and theories, so let’s get clear on what is true, and explore solutions to common problems.
Iron absorption: What’s true?
- USUALLY TRUE: You need to take vitamin C with iron for it to work. Absorption of iron from the foods you eat is improved when the meal is higher in vitamin C, YES. When you have a higher level of acidity in the stomach you will also break iron compounds down more effectively. People who have a higher vitamin C intake tend, therefore, to have better iron status. But not all supplements need vitamin C to be absorbed.
- OFTEN TRUE: Kids become anemic from too much milk. Overconsumption of cow’s milk can be problematic. Weaned toddlers who no longer get iron from mother’s milk or formula need to get iron from their diet. If they get full on milk, they might not eat that many iron-rich solids. It can also mean that they consume a lot of calcium with their iron-rich meals, impacting iron absorption. If they seem irritable, tired or cannot seem to concentrate, those can be signs of low iron in childhood.
- FALSE: A healthy diet should provide all the iron you need. Even folks who eat well and try to consume iron-rich foods can be prone to low iron. Eating a plant-based diet, even if you are not a vegetarian, can put you at HIGHER risk for iron deficiency. Unfortunately, absorption of most forms of iron is severely impacted by fibre, phytates from nuts and seeds, beans and grains, and oxalates in iron-rich plants like spinach. For those who consume eggs, the whites can be a problem, as they bind to iron.
- FALSE: Vegetarians cannot recover from iron deficiency. I have heard of anemic folks refused help by doctors because they did not want to eat animal foods. The argument here is that a diet rich in dairy or plant compounds will bind up any supplemental iron, impeding their recovery, and that iron absorption is enhanced by eating meat, fish, and poultry. Luckily, Flora offers Ferritin+, a unique new vegan-friendly iron supplement that is unaffected by these issues, which now enables plant-based peeps to prove this one false.
- FALSE: Men and menopausal women never need supplemental iron. This generalization misses seniors, who are at higher risk for low iron because of low stomach acid causing poor absorption. It also misses those men and women who have lower iron due to a diet low in red meat, an active lifestyle, or health conditions such as celiac disease or fibroids.
- TRUE: Heavy tea, red wine and coffee drinkers have a harder time raising iron levels. The tannins in these drinks often impacts iron absorption for older adults. Taking iron supplements with tea is extremely inefficient. Treat these drinks like medication and do not mix with iron.
- FALSE: Huge doses of iron ensure enough will be absorbed. Large doses may raise iron levels quickly, but often do not. Absorption can be temporarily limited by iron you’ve recently ingested, or how low in iron you are (absorption increases with need, due to a feedback loop). Iron salt compound absorption is naturally limited by levels of hepcidin and transferrin, biological factors in the body which ebb and flow. Only so much iron can be absorbed at any time, any more will be excreted by your intestines. If irritated, this may create gut inflammation and worsen absorption. The state of the digestive tract (celiac disease, malabsorption, or an ulcer) can impact the gut’s capacity to absorb iron and allow it passage into the bloodstream. Iron absorption will vary for genetic reasons too.
Iron absorption troubles solved! Flora suggestions for better absorption:
- Time iron intake early in the day instead of late at night to take advantage of relatively low levels of hepcidin, which can interfere with absorption.
- All of Flora’s iron supplements (Iron+, Iron+ Herb, Ferritin+) are already in usable form and do not require vitamin C for conversion. However, vitamin C is still great, and helps you get more iron from your food.
- After taking iron, avoid having a spinach and cheese omelette with black tea for breakfast!
- If you can’t give up vegetables, beans, and grains rich in fibre, polyphenols, oxalates and phytates, consider Ferritin+ which is unaffected by them.
- Keep your digestive tract in good condition and address any issues or inflammatory illnesses of the digestive tract for best absorption of nutrients.
- Space iron away from fibre supplements, medications and competing minerals like calcium. If you take a lot of supplements, consider Ferritin+ as your iron solution, as it is not affected by competition.
- Keep doses of Iron+ and Iron+ Herb spaced apart by 4+ hours instead of doubling up. You may be able to handle a larger dose of iron if your needs are higher due to anemia, having recently lost blood from donation, menstruation, an ulcer, or if you do high-impact sports such as MMA or running.
- If you need to take a large amount of iron daily, try combining Iron+ or Iron+ Herb with Ferritin+, as the different forms of iron used are compatible, without reducing each other’s absorption.
- If you cannot give up tea, coffee, or red wine, consider Ferritin+, which is unaffected by dietary tannins.
- If you or a parent has weak digestion or trouble swallowing, try Iron+ or Iron+ Herb which are in liquid form. They are easily absorbed by folks with low levels of stomach acid and enzymes or suboptimal digestion.
- As long as you don’t have an iron accumulation condition, it is safe for older adults to take Iron+, Iron+ Herb or Ferritin+ to cover their daily iron needs.
Flora makes it easy to raise your iron levels and to raise your spirits too, right now you can get Iron+/Iron+ Herb and Ferritin+ for 15% when you use code IRON15 at checkout at www.florahealth.com. Ferritin+ is currently only available in the US.
About the Author: Dana Remedios
Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth, and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.