Q: I think I am anaemic and have heard that you can take an iron supplement to help remedy the condition. I would like to know if I can simply embark on a three- month course, or should I have my iron levels tested first? I have heard that some people can’t absorb iron – does vitamin C aid absorption? Is the chelated form of an iron sup- plement better? Please could you answer these questions for me? With thanks. T.P.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
You have put forward some very pertinent questions regarding anaemia and iron supplementation, which I think are best referred to integrative medical practitioner Dr Lynette Steele.
DR LYNETTE STEELE REPLIES:
Iron deficiency is very often the cause of anaemia as it is a common and widespread nutritional disorder. Babies, teenagers and women are more prone to suffer from iron deficiency.
Anaemia is a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues, and low levels of oxygen place stress on the body. Iron is an essential mineral and necessary for adequate red blood cell production and oxygen transport in the body. Iron also plays a role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin which can influence mood and emotional well-being. About 15% of the body’s iron is stored for future needs and mobilised when dietary intake is inadequate. The body usually maintains normal iron status by controlling the amount of iron that is absorbed from food.
Causes of iron deficiency include a low dietary in- take of iron: a vegan diet can lead to deficiencies of minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc. Reduced absorption of iron can be caused by disorders of the digestive tract such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease or bowel surgery. Bleeding through ulcers, haemorrhoids and menstruation can also cause iron deficiency. Pregnant women, infants and children as well as athletes have an increased need for iron.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include anaemia, brittle nails, confusion, constipation, depression, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, ringing in the ears, headaches, an inflamed tongue and mouth lesions.
It is important to have a full blood count as well as iron studies done by your doctor before you embark on iron supplementation. This will determine whether or not you are anaemic and what the status of your iron stores in the body is. Iron supplementation is usually prescribed for three to six months and it should be monitored to prevent excessive intake. Usually the tests are repeated after three to six months. A chelated form of iron is often better absorbed and causes less constipation, which can sometimes be a side effect of ferrous sulphate that is prescribed by most doctors.
Increasing your dietary intake of iron is important as well. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Sources of heme iron include red meat, fish and poultry. Sources of non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron, include beans, lentils, flours, cereals and grain products. Other sources of iron include dried fruit, peas, asparagus, leafy greens (spinach, kale and watercress), straw- berries and nuts. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron and it is a good idea to take your iron supplement with tomatoes, kiwi fruit or a glass of orange juice, or alternatively with a vitamin C supplement. Tea and coffee contains polyphenols that can make it harder for your body to absorb iron.
I hope this helps you.