Take a Tip from Popeye
Being low in iron is common. In fact, world wide, iron deficiency is the most frequently diagnosed nutritional deficiency. Without iron, the body cannot make haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen around the body. Without oxygen… well, you can figure out the rest. Iron is also important in other areas, including the brain and immune system.
Reasons for iron deficiency vary from simply not eating enough iron rich food, to experiencing heavy periods, intense exercise, pregnancy, adolescence, and ulcerative colitis, to not absorbing iron from the small intestine as a result of gluten sensitivity. A blood test is the most accurate way of iron assessment, with Ferritin (stored iron), being the most reliable measure of iron status.
Everyone’s an Individual
Unfortunately, iron is a tricky mineral to absorb at the best of times. Due to biochemical individuality, iron absorption differs from person to person. Even when taking an iron supplement, some people only manage to absorb a measly 5%. People often suffer tummy upsets such as nausea, constipation or diarrhoea when taking iron supplements. Symptoms may depend on what form of iron is in the supplement, with Ferrous (iron) sulfate (eg Ferrograd) often being poorly tolerated and forms such as Ferrous bisglycinate (in brands like Metagenics and BioMedica) being better tolerated.
Timing is Everything
Minerals like calcium and zinc can interfere with iron absorption, as can fibre, so the best time to take your iron supplement is on an empty stomach. And finally, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Although low iron is a common nutritional deficiency, you don’t need to take an iron supplement unless your blood tests show it is necessary, as excess iron can ‘rust’ or oxidise in the body.