Iron is a nutrient that is found in the body in very small quantities (trace element) and is vital to its proper functioning. It is found in all the body’s cells. Since the body cannot produce iron, it must obtain what it needs from food. The body has a mechanism to protect itself from the toxic effects of iron: the iron absorption rate increases when the body’s reserves have been depleted but decreases when reserves are high. Iron exists in two main forms:
The tannins in vegetables make the non-hematinic form harder to absorb. Vitamin C and hematinic iron improve the absorption of non-hematinic iron.
What does iron do?
Recommended Dietary Allowance for Iron:
Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc, 2000.
This data reflects a consensus between Canadian and U.S. authorities.
*Lacking sufficient scientific evidence, authorities have established adequate intakes (AIs) rather than recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). Adequate iron intake is based on observed average intakes in North American babies in good health.
NOTE: Iron supplements must be taken only under the supervision of a healthcare professional. If iron supplements are advised (further to a test measuring ferritin and hemoglobin levels), they should be taken after a meal containing vitamin C sources to improve absorption.
The main food sources for both hematinic and non-hematinic iron are red meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Dried fruit, molasses, whole grains, legumes, green vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain only non-hematinic iron. Wheat flour, breakfast cereals, precooked rice, and pasta are typically enriched with non-hematinic iron.
NOTE: The calcium in dairy products may decrease iron absorption.
Food Sources for Iron:
Source: Health Protection Branch, Health Canada, Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods, 1999.
Iron deficiency is common. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of the world’s population is thought to be affected, with 30% of those suffering from anemia.
Insufficient iron intake, inadequate intestinal absorption, excessive blood loss, vitamin A deficiency, and/or increased iron requirements may lead to iron deficiency.
The following people are at risk for iron deficiency:
Signs of iron deficiency:
Beneficial properties attributable to iron (in case of deficiency):
Other beneficial properties attributable to iron but that require medical monitoring:
The risk of iron poisoning through food is almost nonexistent, except in the case of certain diseases that lead to overabsorption of this mineral, such as hereditary hemachromatosis.
On the other hand, an iron surplus may come from iron supplements. Before taking any type of supplements, consult your doctor or pharmacist.
Signs of excess iron:
Natural health products and vitamin supplements that decrease iron absorption (possible):
Natural health products and vitamin supplements that increase iron absorption:
Medications that increase iron absorption*:
Medications that decrease iron absorption*:
*Wait two hours between taking these medications and iron supplements.
***Speak with your pharmacist if you plan to take iron supplements. Your pharmacist can help you choose the solution that’s best for you based on your health and any drugs you take.
Iron, Ferrous carbonate, Ferrous fumarate, Ferrous gluconate, Ferrous sulfate, Ferrous citrate, Ferrous succinate, Fe