Are Iron Pills Good for You?

Are Iron Pills Good for You?
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A question as to whether cancer and Alzheimer’s disease can be considered “ferrotoxic” diseases.

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What about iron? Shorter lifespan, same lifespan, or longer lifespan?

Shorter 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 downregulate 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

What about iron? Shorter lifespan, same lifespan, or longer lifespan?

Shorter 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 downregulate 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

Check out my other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?)

Also see my associated blog posts: How to Enhance Mineral AbsorptionEating To Extend Our Lifespan, and Soy milk: shake it up!

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41 responses to “Are Iron Pills Good for You?

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    1. My doctor says that the body can only extract 1 mg of iron a day from plant sources. For me that sounds strange and I could not find any information on the web about this.




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    1. 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/




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  1. 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.”




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




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  3. 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?




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    1.  Anemia can be caused by many conditions. Iron deficiency anemia has low red blood cells that are typically smaller and paler then normal plus the measure of iron in the blood is low. The most common cause in women is due to the loss of blood monthly in their menses and inadequate intake to match the loss. The above post by aguccione helps explain this. So it is not uncommon to have to take iron supplements to catch up and correct your anemia and then given a good diet you should be able to maintain your iron levels unless something else is going on. See the video… http://nutritionfacts.org/video/iron-during-pregnancy/. So it is important to work with your physician and follow your tests to make sure you don’t take too much iron. Good luck.




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  4. 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?




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      1. 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




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        1. Interesting – thanks for sharing. My husband is on iron supplements because of anemia. Multiple tests including CT scan, colonoscopy, and endoscopy show everything normal. Speculation is blood donations plus near vegan diet (5 years) plus maybe he doesn’t absorb iron well. Any comment or other things you have learned?




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  5. 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????




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  6. Hi, I recently got my blood tests back and am a bit concerned. I have been Vegan for 4 years. I try to keep the fats low but have been known to eat some more processed foods like boca chick’n pattys and potato chips :( Within the last year I started drinking soda and have consistantly had 3-4 beers in the eveninng 5-6 nights a week before bed for the last few years. I am wondering If going back to just drinking water and losing the processed foods could fix my #’s or if the alcohol could be what is making them off.
    Also, I am 31, caucasion, Female, 143 lb., 5’4.
    The things out of wack are:
    Iron 208 ug/dl
    Glucose 100 mg/dl
    SGOT 12 U/L
    SEG 39%
    Lymph 47%

    Thanks in advance for your time. I am very worried. I don’t see my Dr. about this for a month and he is very overweight and unhealthy looking, I would trust your advice much more. From what I see online they may want to remove large amounts of my blood weekly to fix the iron. Should I be worried about this???!!!! thank you Jamie




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  7. I’ve just been diagnosed with Anemia, probably due to extremely heavy menstrual periods. Been prescribed iron pills, but would rather treat with diet. Already eating lots of tofu, beans, leafy greens. Advice/suggestions? Should I take the iron?




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    1. Beth: This is just a tiny suggestion that might help in the bigger picture: are you eating the foods you listed, ex leafy greens, with foods high in vitamin C like lemons? That can help increase your body’s absorption of iron. There are lots of ideas like that that may help you.

      Check out some of these and you may want to search for more ideas like this:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/questions/can-tea-hinder-the-absorption-of-iron/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/risk-associated-with-iron-supplements/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/new-mineral-absorption-enhancers-found/

      This “ask the doctor” has questions that I would think you and your doctor would want to address too:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/questions/second-opinion-for-8-year-old-with-anemia/

      Good luck




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      1. Thanks Michel and Thea! Heavy periods most likely due to a fibroid and fluctuating hormone level that come with getting older. I was not told about serum ferritin level. I was just told that my hemoglobin is 10 while normal is at least 12 and at 8 you get a blood transfusion (and I had to pry that information out of them.) Is this something I should ask for? And thanks for the vitamin C advice. I had been thinking that I probably should be more conscious about having some at each meal.




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        1. If you still feel good, you only need a blood transfusion at 6. My grandfather had 6 – although he was 90 years old. And survived 6 further years after healing of his duodenal ulcer. Ask for ferritin, which reflects more accurately body’s iron. You ouhgt to read my answers above + links.”BEFORE commencing treatment, there should be definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause for iron deficiency.”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_deficiency#Treatment




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  8. I am a long-time vegetarian (over 30 years). I feel great. Recently, I went in for a physical and had blood work done. Everything was great, and I’m not anemic, but my ferritin levels are low (7, where the doctor said she likes to see it up around 30). Since then, I’ve upped my bean and pumpkin seed intake. I don’t think I’ll have blood work done for at least six more months, but should these dietary changes be sufficient? Or should I consider a supplement? Although I’m 51, I haven’t hit menopause yet, so that may be a factor.




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    1. I am vegetarian since 1981. 1997 my ferritin level fell below 2 because of blood donations. Although without anemia, at that time I felt really tired. As you feel great, you can eat more pumpkin seeds and wait six more months.




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  9. What studies show the health risks of iron fortified foods? It’s unnatural to add iron filings to foods. It seems that it’s always been assumed to be safe, yet the body tries to bind up iron through transferrin. I did come across one study showing it to be harmful, but it does not seem much research has been done in this area. Here’s a link with a story about the study. http://www.memory-key.com/research/news/brain-iron-levels-may-need-be-just-right




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      1. Thanks Michel, but this video and the one you linked to are both about iron supplements. My point was that there does not appear to be much study on whether iron filings added to fortified foods may be harmful. We naturally consume plant iron, and some heme iron, but iron filings are unnatural. I’d like to see Dr. Greger make a video addressing iron in fortified foods, maybe using his traffic light.




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  10. My recent hemoglobin count was 7.9 when it should be 12 or more. Its always been low but I feel, I guess fine. I am a health consultant so I eat well, but I still don;t yet know the real cause and I don;t want to start taking iron supplements without knowing why it has been low all these years. Any suggestions in what course of action to take first?




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    1. Same problem as Beth B. • one year ago • Ask for ferritin, which reflects more accurately body’s iron + reticulocytes – nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/1491.htm. Read my answers above + links.”BEFORE commencing treatment, there should be definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause for iron deficiency.”: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_deficiency#Treatment




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  11. Regarding the risks exposed in this video, I’m wondering if all iron pills would be similarly dangerous, knowing that some pills contain heme-iron, others contain only iron salts and others are made of the so-called “amino acid chelated iron”

    I ask this question because in another video we learned that the body can regulate the amount of non-heme iron it absorbs, but can’t regulate the amount of heme-iron it absorbs, so I am inclined to believe that using non-heme iron pills would not be problematic.

    Thanks for any explanation!




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    1. Even non-heme iron pills can cause stomach pain and constipation. Therefore, they should never contain more than 20 mg of iron. This is the maximum amount that can be absorbed from a single dose in the duodenum.




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      1. Thanks for the quick reply, Michel!

        Would you say that the gravest problems with non-heme iron pills are these very easily identifiable symptoms? Do you think it would be wise of me to conclude that if the person is not experiencing those symptoms, then he shouldn’t worry about more serious problems, such as cancer or brain intoxication, which this video refers to?




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        1. You should worry about the CAUSE of your iron deficiency. Same problem as Valerie • 23 days ago • Read my answers above + links.”BEFORE commencing treatment, there should be definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause for iron deficiency.”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_deficiency#Treatment . Ferrritin is a protein that captures iron. It reflects body’s iron stores. You will not get brain poisoning, as long as your ferritin level is not too high.




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  12. Does your body regulated a pill of chelated iron (from a raw mineral, such as that made by Albion Labs patented Ferrochel) the same as it does iron that comes from eating plants?




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  13. Hi, I’m very confused. I eat a plant based diet and have been for 7 years. I went for a physical and was told my iron is too high. I don’t understand how that’s possible with the way i eat. Oatmeal in the morning, on weekends ezekial bread with sunflower butter in the morning. Bean burritos, rice pasta with lentils. dr. mcdougal soups with jasmine or brown rice… good grain crackers with a little hummus or avacado. Well, you get the picture…. Feeling very discouraged for all my efforts. Any advice would be appreciatel.
    Cindy Orlando cindy.orlando@researchboard.com Thank you so much




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