Written by Balanced Beings | Monday, 24 January 2022
Are you someone who continuously suffers from low iron? Taking supplements and still barely making the range? We want to talk about iron and some of the reasons why a person may become iron deficient.
Firstly, there are two forms of iron, heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal sources and is more absorbable than non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is from plant-based sources and requires vitamin C for absorption.
Here are the recommended daily intakes for iron:
Iron deficiency in pregnant women is something we commonly see in clinic and will often equate to low iron stores in their offspring. This is generally due to poor iron levels prior to conception, so is definitely something worth investigating beforehand.
Ferritin is the protein that stores and releases iron. The current ‘normal’ range for ferritin is 30–200, which is a huge nutrient range. In our experience though, if you are sitting in the 30s, which we deem suboptimal low, it is highly likely you are not feeling as great as someone sitting pretty at around 100, which is where we would ideally like to see our clients.
If you are struggling with low levels, the first thing to consider is are you consuming enough iron-rich foods? These include:
Now, let’s talk about supplementing. Who here has taken an iron supplement only to experience constipation? This may have turned you off supplementing altogether. Remember, not all supplements are created equally and what iron has been combined with as a carrier for absorption is important.
Many over the counter products (we are looking at your Ferrograd C) are poor forms of iron as they are combined with sulphate. Sulphate is used because it is cheap and commonly easily absorbed, however it has also been shown to be aggravating on the gut and cause gastrointestinal issues in many adults.
It is also important to note that the body can actually only absorb approximately 24mg of iron daily. So no, more is not better. Those supplements that are containing 90mg in each tablet are going to cause constipation, black poos and can even drive inflammation.
What then, you may ask, is the best form of iron to be supplementing with? The most superior form of iron to date appears to be iron bisglycinate or iron glycinate. This is iron bound to glycine, a beautiful amino acid. You also want your supplement to contain the cofactors that support iron absorption which are vitamin C as well as B12 and folate.
When taking iron supplements, studies have shown taking them every second day has improved absorption and subsequent increases in iron status. This is due to a high intake of iron stimulating the peptide hormone called hepcidin to be released into our blood which basically regulates iron absorption. When we reach our maximum absorption of iron, this protein will remain raised so that we no longer absorb past the threshold. This has been seen to remain raised for up to 24 hours, therefore no iron is being absorbed and stored the following day.
Other things to consider are iron absorption blockers such as tannins and oxalates which bind to iron and inhibit its absorption. These compounds are found in teas and coffee so be sure that you are taking supplements and eating iron-rich foods two hours apart from drinking your coffee and teas!
It is important to understand why your iron is low and address the cause. This can be due to a variety and often a combination of reasons such as:
Seeking support from a qualified health practitioner to address your iron deficiency is highly recommended.
How does nutrition affect our overall wellbeing? Find out more through our Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) and range of Nutrition Short Courses.
Ems, T., St Lucia, K., Huecker, M. (2021). Biochemistry, Iron Absorption. Stat Pearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448204/
Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. (2005). https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/iron
Stoffel, N., Zeder, C., Brittenham, G.,et al. (2020). Iron absorption from supplements is greater with alternate day than with consecutive day dosing in iron-deficient anemic women. Haematologica, 105 (5). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7193469/
Tolkien, Z., Stecher, L., Mander, A. et al. (2015). Ferrous Sulfate Supplementation Causes Significant Gastrointestinal Side-Effects in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta- Analysis. PLoS One, 10 (2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336293/
Balanced Beings is an integrated naturopathic clinic that is driven by providing treatment backed by testing and degree qualified practitioners. Balanced Beings focus on women's health, sexual health and children's health, and work together with clients to get results that work.
Balanced Beings was founded by Endeavour naturopathy alumna, Brooke Klower.