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Are Iron Pills Good For You?

A question as to whether cancer and Alzheimer’s disease can be considered “ferrotoxic” diseases.

December 17, 2009 |
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What about iron? Shorter lifespan, same lifespan, or longer lifespan?
In fact, last summer an editorial in the journal of the National Cancer Institute questioned whether cancer itself was a “ferrotoxic” disease, after a study showed that donating blood to rid oneself of excess iron appeared to cut cancer death rates in half. And with advanced neuroimaging techniques, iron accumulation in the brain is being increasingly linked to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Now if you’re pregnant you need enough blood for two, or if you have iron deficiency anemia, then you may need iron supplements, but for most people taking extra iron is a bad idea, and in fact that may be one reason there are higher cancer rates among meat-eaters because they get heme iron, or “blood” iron, which our body is unable to regulate the absorption of.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

Check out my associated blog posts: How to Enhance Mineral Absorption andEating To Extend Our Lifespan, and Soymilk: shake it up!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/desavov/ desavov

    What should people with Iron deficiency do, especially when they are prescribed to take Iron pills?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/aguccionesbcglobal-net/ aguccione@sbcglobal.net

      Hi Desavov,
      There are many causes of iron-deficiency anemia (from intestinal bleeding, menses to insufficient dietary intake or absorption). The most common cause of iron-deficiency anemia in adults (age 50+) is chronic GI bleeding due to gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer or GI cancer. Also,the following food items can decrease iron absorption: Dairy (irritates stomach lining), eggs, tea,coffee and cocoa taken during meals. A balanced vegetarian diet that includes legumes, fortified grains, and green veggies easily provides adquate iron. Vit. C and A from fruits and veggies appear to enhance iron absorption. People with iron deficiency should discuss their condition carefully with their physician to identify the CAUSE of their deficiency and then rectify that problem in order to circumvent or minimize having to be on iron pills. Here’s a helpful video clip for pregnant women and iron:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/iron-during-pregnancy/
      For more info on other forms of supplementation: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/can-folic-acid-be-harmful/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/vitamin-supplements-worth-taking/

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/watermelon/ Watermelon

    desavov:
    At 0:45 he says that you may need to supplement, take iron pills, under certain circumstances. He then says “for most people taking extra iron is a bad idea.”

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Multivitamins and Mortality!

  • Michel Voss

    Cheapest first test - after serum ferritin - to identify the CAUSE of  iron deficiency: reticulocytes in blood, normal range 0.5% to 1.5%.

  • Spoday

    My latest blood work showed anemia and the doctor ordered iron supplements.  Based upon these videos, two questions come to mind: (1) is there a separate test to determine if mine is iron deficiency anemia or some other reason for anemia (no sign of ulcers etc. but should I have a test?) and (2) should I take the supplements in the mean time?  I have upped my green leafy veggies (kale, spinach, etc.).  Are there other / better sources or iron for diet?

  • http://www.facebook.com/michel.voss1 Michel Voss

    How increased luminal - but not systemic - iron strongly promotes murine intestinal  tumorigenesis: 
    http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/abstract/S2211-1247(12)00199-4

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666366687 Stephen Lucker Kelly

    My friend who is a science teacher tells me that Iron is more easily absorbed from Animal flesh than from any plant based source? He says it’s to do with the types of Iron. I forget the words he used. He also said the vitamin C helps absorption of Iron, in which I said so does eating lemons. However? Is this true? Is the best source of Iron not plant based?

    • http://www.facebook.com/michel.voss1 Michel Voss

      Iron is more easily absorbed from Animal flesh ( hemoglobin, myoglobin) than from any plant based source. But Iron is a double-edged sword. It forms hydrogen peroxide (free radical) which is removed by antioxidants – if you have enough in your body from plant-based food.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/risk-associated-with-iron-supplements/

    • Toxins

      In addition to what Michel Voss said, none heme iron is also absorbed more easily with shallot family vegetables, such as garlic or onions.

      http://nutritionfacts.org/2012/11/01/how-to-enhance-mineral-absorption/

      Iron is very easy to get on a whole foods plant based diet so even ignoring the fact that non heme iron is not as easily absorbed is not relevant.

      • Michel Voss

        1978 – 1999 I was blood donor, felt always very tired after donation & had an extreme lack of iron – despite whole foods with plenty shallot vegetables since 1982: Ferritin 2 ng/mL. PMID: 23712019

  • David

    What about cooking in an iron skillet. I thought you had covered that somewhere along the line but I don’t see it. Concerns, effects????