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IRON supplements : why you should think twice before taking it?


It's so common that most of the multivitamin supplements including protein powders contain iron. Yes we all need iron, it's important for oxygen transport ,red blood cells formation, immune function, energy and many other functions. However iron excess can be more dangerous that iron deficiency which you can fix through appropriate food or supplementation but there is no physiologic regulatory mechanism for excreting excess iron.


Here are some facts on iron:​​​


  • The only why to loose significant amount of iron is with blood, that's why women are more prone to iron deficiencies than men.

  • Iron can be recycled and reused by our body.

  • Iron accumulates across our live if it's supplemented  when a person doesn't suffer from iron deficiency.

  • Iron overload slow downs mitochondria (an organelle that produces energy) and increases free radicals which may damage our cells and DNA. Excess iron gets deposited in the liver, heart and pancreas, where it can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer and cardiac arrhythmias​


  • There are two major types of iron: heme iron, in ferrous state Fe 2+ (found in meat, fish and sea food) and non-heme iron in ferric state Fe3+ (mostly plant sources). Only ferrous/heme iron is a well absorbed by the body, ferric/non-heme iron must be reduced to ferrous state to be bioavailable and absorbed.


What inhibits and enhances iron absorption?


Iron enhancers:


  • Vitamin C - The enhancing effect is largely due to its ability to reduce ferric to ferrous iron but is also due to its potential to chelate iron (another form of bioavailable iron).

  • Fun fact : vitamin C does not enhance iron absorption from supplements as the supplemental form is already in the form that the body can absorb so I don't really understand why some supplement brands advertise their iron products as 'with vitamin C to enhance absorption', probably just a marketing trick.

  • Vitamin C only helps to absorb more iron from food, thats why make sure you get enough of it especially if you consume lots of legumes which inhibit iron absorption.


Iron inhibitors:


  • Phytates - Legumes, grain and nuts are rich in phytatic acid which  inhibits iron absorption. Content of  phytates in food can be reduced by soaking, cooking and fermenting.

  • Calcium - Calcium has been shown to inhibit iron absorption however the exact mechanism is not clear yet based on the evidence and research available.



Anaemia: is it Iron or Copper deficiency?


It's quite common that anaemia is associated with Iron deficiency but let's take  one step further and see how copper is related to iron deficiency.

As mentioned earlier iron is stored in our body mostly in the liver in the form of ferritin. If the blood iron levels decreases and there is not enough iron absorbed from food, your body should take iron from the storage. Here copper comes in play. Transferrin is a copper dependent protein that regulates iron levels  in plasma and transports iron.

Hephaestine is another copper-dependent protein involved in iron absorption from enterocytes - type of cells lining your intestines.

It may happen that a person may have low blood plasma iron levels and high storage iron as the iron can’t become bioavailable or can't be absorbed due to copper insufficiencies.

Another interesting dependency is copper and vitamin A. Vitamin A is cofactor in creating ceruloplasmin, a protein that transports  copper.

Now we can link everything all together. Vitamin A deficiency may lead to impaired functions of copper which may lead to impaired iron metabolism which may results in anaemia. Of course there are many other root causes of anaemia as well. This is just one of many to be considered before supplementing iron.


Comment below and share if you find it useful:)

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