Are you taking the right kind of iron supplement? By: Dr. Laura Belus ND


Who needs iron?

Iron is a necessary mineral used by the human body primary in red blood cells and is required for oxygen transfer & exchange. This translates to proper energy function, reduced fatigue and healthy hair, skin & nails. For women, having adequate iron in the body can become a challenge due to regular menstrual periods (especially heavy bleeding), pregnancy or a vegetarian/vegan diet.



When there is less iron in the red blood cells it is called iron deficiency anemia and is estimated to affect 5% of all women. This is usually tested on routine blood work including tests called Complete Blood Count (CBC), Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) and Ferritin (iron storage). If you have been told you are anemic or simply have ‘low iron’, you may find your health drastically improves by adding in extra amounts of this important mineral.



Can I get iron through food?

A common question often asked is, “if I have low iron, can’t I simply eat more iron-rich foods?” The short answer is yes, but it’s not usually enough. Iron is poorly absorbed in the human body and takes several months to fully incorporate it into red blood cells within circulation. Therefore, if you’re feeling fatigued or have recently lost large amounts of blood (surgery, pregnancy or heavy periods) you may need to increase your levels more efficiently.  Even high-iron containing foods like liver or clams only contain about 10 mg per serving. Vegetarian options of iron-rich foods include spinach and swiss chard, but only provide 3-6 mg per serving. Health Canada recommends adults get between 8-15 mg of iron each day (with women’s needs at the higher end of the spectrum). Considering that food sources of iron can sometimes be poorly absorbed due to other iron-blocking nutrients such as calcium or phytates (found in greens), we need to ensure a highly absorbable form of iron is available for regular consumption. This is where iron supplements come in.



How iron supplements can help

Iron supplements contain a specific amount of the important mineral so that we know how much we are consuming daily. The range of iron per pill can range drastically from 5 mg in a multivitamin to 150mg in a prescription grade product. However, studies have shown that more is not necessarily better. Most people can only absorb about 30mg of iron in a single sitting, the rest will be excreted from the body and not used.



Iron supplements are not all created equal

So we have determined iron is necessary for many important functions within the body and many women may be low or have diagnosed iron deficiency anemia. Now what? Taking an iron supplement may seem like the logical thing to do, but if you don’t take the right type or dose you may find yourself dealing with a whole host of nasty side effects like nausea or constipation, or worse, the iron is not in a form your body can absorb and you find that months of taking the ‘wrong’ iron has not improved your symptoms much (if at all).


Talk to your naturopathic doctor about taking iron supplements that contain some vitamin C and B vitamins for improved absorption. This can reduce side effects and raise your iron levels in a matter of a few short months without the toxicity of taking large doses in a single pill.


If you’re unsure of your iron levels in your blood, or want to determine if you are taking the best supplement for your needs, make an appointment at Holistix today 905-804-1238.