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What is Iron?
Iron is a chemical element and metal, and is the most common element on this planet.
A large proportion of the Earth’s crust and core are made from iron; however, our interest here is with the nutritional application of iron rather than geology.
In a biological context, iron is also very common, and is an essential element found in just about every living organism on Earth. Iron plays a number of vital roles throughout the human body, forming a number of compounds such as hemoglobin.
For now it should suffice to know that iron is crucial to almost all life on Earth, including humans, and shortly we will look at just how necessary it is as a dietary supplement for men and women.
What Types of Iron are There?
The two forms of iron most commonly used in dietary supplements are iron sulfate and iron(II) fumarate, with the former being cheaper and equally effective.
There are many foods such as breakfast cereals and wheat flours that are enriched with added iron, and in this context elemental iron is most commonly used.
In terms of pure bioavailability it appears as if iron that has been chelated to an amino acid is the best option; for this reason it is a great idea to look for iron glycinate as the active ingredient in your iron supplement.
Which Foods Contain Iron?
There are a number of different food sources which contain iron, further reducing the need for most people to use an iron supplement:
- Meat and Fish
- Leafy Greens
- Beans, Peas, and Lentils
The iron found in meat known as heme iron and animal products appears to have a higher level of bioavailability, making it an arguably superior form to include in your diet.
Is it Possible to Consume Too Much Iron from Food?
Many of you are probably familiar with claims that eating too much red meat is bad for you and may even contribute to cancer.
There are some studies which suggest this is the case due to the hemoglobin content of red meat; however, this issue is still very much up for debate so for the moment you would be advised to use your own due diligence based on your current health status.
Benefits of Iron
As we mentioned above, iron plays a wide range of roles throughout the body depending on the compounds it is used to form.
The most common organic use of iron is in the formation of what are referred to as heme proteins, such as the aforementioned haemoglobin, as well as myoglobin and cytochrome P450. These compounds are essential for enzyme formation, the transfer of electrons, and other important bodily functions.
Although the human body as a means of regulating the uptake of iron there is no actual process for the excretion of iron, meaning that it is important to ensure you are not consuming excessive amounts above and beyond what your body needs for optimal functioning.
Who Can Benefit From Iron and How?
A wide range of people can experience benefits from taking a good iron supplement. The following groups will see the most benefit:
- Those with iron deficiency anemia – millions suffer from this common nutritional deficiency, and it can cause serious health issues ranging from fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and much more. Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by menstruation, peptic ulcer disease, cancer in the digestive tract, blood loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, and more. Many people simply do not get enough iron in their daily diets, which can lead to health problems. It’s easy to add an effective iron supplement to combat these health risks.
- Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant – the daily recommended intake for the average women who is not pregnant is 15-18mg of iron. For pregnant women, that recommendation rises to 27mg daily according to the National Institutes of Health. Ensuring you get enough iron during pregnancy (and while you’re nursing) will help improve your own health as well as the health of your child.
- Women who menstruate – according to a report from the CDC, approximately 9% of women ages 12-49 have iron deficiency. This is largely attributed to the fact that menstruation depletes iron stores in the body.
- Athletes – anyone who exercises on a regular basis may need significantly more iron than the average individual. Some health experts say that athletes require as much as 30% more iron than the typical person.
- Those with regular blood loss – iron is stored in the blood, so anyone who loses significant amounts of blood on a regular basis is at risk for low iron levels. This could include anyone who donates blood regularly, or anyone who has gastrointestinal bleeding due to a medical condition and/or complication of medicine.
- Those with unhealthy diets – many people get sufficient levels of iron from their daily diets. However, those who don’t consume enough of the iron-rich foods like shellfish, beef, turkey, lentils, beans, and spinach are at risk for iron deficiency.
- Vegetarians & vegans – many of the best sources of iron in foods are found in meat products. If you do not eat meat, you will find it harder to get adequate iron levels from your diet alone.
As you can see, there are many reasons to take an iron supplement. These are the groups of people that are most likely to benefit from the best iron supplements, but it’s completely possible that you suffer from iron deficiency even if you don’t fit into one of the categories above.
Does Iron Have any Side Effects?
Iron in and of itself is not likely to cause any adverse side-effects in otherwise healthy adults.
As we mentioned above, however, the body does not have an established means of excreting excess amounts of iron, and this can make toxicity or iron poisoning a very real threat to individuals who do not use iron supplements responsibly.
Excessive levels of iron in the blood can result in the production of free radicals, which are very well known for their ability to damage DNA and cellular structures throughout the human body.
There is also a risk of damage to the gastrointestinal tract, heart, liver, and so on, so we strongly recommend that you establish a legitimate need for iron supplementation rather than using it haphazardly. In
As with any dietary supplement, we recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consult their doctor or physician prior to use. This also applies to people under the age of 18 and individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or who are taking any kind of prescription medication.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
Do I Really Need to Use an Iron Supplement?
The vast majority of the population are unlikely to have a need for iron supplementation.
The only people that really stand to benefit from using iron supplements are certain women, frequent blood donors, and individual suffering from anemia due to malabsorption or other health issues.
At best, unnecessary iron supplementation is a waste of money and at worst it could actually be harmful, so chances are this isn’t a supplement that you are going to need to purchase.
This leads us on to our next point.
Why Do Some Multivitamin Supplements Specifically Not Include Iron?
When you are trying to determine what is the best multivitamin supplement you are likely to see that some formulas specifically mention their absence of iron.
The reason for this is that iron supplementation is typically only necessary for women, so you will notice that there are many supplement brands manufacturing multivitamin supplements for women specifically; these are the ones that will be more likely to contain iron.
After reading this if you are a little concerned about consuming too much iron then all you have to do is check the label to see whether or not your multivitamin contains iron.
How and When Should I Take Iron?
Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the packaging of any supplement that you buy.
Exactly how you use your iron supplement is going to depend on your personal needs, the determining factors such as your age, sex, current health status, and whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How Much Iron Should I Use?
Again, refer to the usage instructions on your iron supplement and if you are in doubt and don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor or physician.
Choosing a Good Iron Supplement
We have established that there are a few different types of iron which can sourced either in supplemental form or from food.
The best food sources of iron are meat, particularly red meat, and the best iron supplements are those which are manufactured using either chelated iron or iron sulfate.
Beyond that it is difficult to establish exactly what is going to be the best option for your personal needs, so once again be sure to speak to your doctor if you are unsure.
1. MegaFood Blood Builder Tablets
2. Now Foods Iron
3. Solgar Gentle Iron
4. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Iron
5. Pure Micronutrients Iron Plus: Premium Iron Supplement
6. Fergon Iron Supplement
7. Ferro-Sequels High Potency Iron Supplement
8. Nature’s Bounty Gentle Iron
9. Sundown Perfect Iron
10. Nature Made Iron