Iron during Pregnancy

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An argument that non-anemic women should choose plant-based sources of iron, and not supplement during pregnancy.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Last year, we learned that iron supplements were harmful, but what about for pregnant women? It’s a chief component of most prenatal vitamins. Now, this is for non-anemic women. Obviously, if you’re iron deficient, no matter who you are, you may need extra iron.

But if your blood count’s okay, is supplemental iron during pregnancy harmful, harmless, or helpful? It’s harmful. “Non-anaemic pregnant women should not take iron supplements.” But why?

Increases the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and maternal high blood pressure. In fact, during the first trimester, your body dramatically curtails iron absorption naturally. Maybe, this researcher is suggesting, it’s your body’s way of trying to protect the baby. Your body can only control the absorption of plant iron, though. Blood iron—so-called “heme” iron from animal sources—cannot be controlled by your body. It goes straight through the gut, and inadvertently, we could get too much of it.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Last year, we learned that iron supplements were harmful, but what about for pregnant women? It’s a chief component of most prenatal vitamins. Now, this is for non-anemic women. Obviously, if you’re iron deficient, no matter who you are, you may need extra iron.

But if your blood count’s okay, is supplemental iron during pregnancy harmful, harmless, or helpful? It’s harmful. “Non-anaemic pregnant women should not take iron supplements.” But why?

Increases the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and maternal high blood pressure. In fact, during the first trimester, your body dramatically curtails iron absorption naturally. Maybe, this researcher is suggesting, it’s your body’s way of trying to protect the baby. Your body can only control the absorption of plant iron, though. Blood iron—so-called “heme” iron from animal sources—cannot be controlled by your body. It goes straight through the gut, and inadvertently, we could get too much of it.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

Check out these videos for more on dietary supplements:
Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements
Some Dietary Supplements May Be More Than a Waste of Money
Risk Associated With Iron Supplements
Dietary Supplement Snake Oil

And check out my other videos on pregnancy

Also see my associated blog post: How to Enhance Mineral Absorption.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

17 responses to “Iron during Pregnancy

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  1. Women who eat vegan diets high in dark green leafy vegetables and other iron-rich foods can meet their iron needs during pregnancy without supplementation, right? It seems monitoring iron levels is a safer approach.




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  2. please some advice on vegan iron sources- have been anemic since going vegan- I consume lots of dark leafy greens and vitamin C (in combination) and would rather not supplement if possible.

    Thank you! I love this website!




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    1. I, too, have become anaemic after 6 months being vegan, i was 36 and now down to 11, with 3 serves beans and 2 serves greens daily! i even steamed the greens to remove oxalic acid. I dunno why this was happening! My only guess was tea and coffee. I have cut them out. I also purchased a “lucky iron fish” and cook my rice with it. HTH




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  3. Anemia (low red blood cell count) has many causes (remember 2.5% of normal patients fall below the reference range and aren’t anemic). If you have iron deficiency anemia your iron level will be low. There are many reasons for having iron deficiency anemia. You need to work with your physician to make sure that the iron deficency anemia is not due to something that needs to be treated. A common cause in otherwise healthy individuals is menstruating women who lose iron each month. A good article listing the sources of iron in plants is “Iron in the Vegan Diet” by Reed Mangels on The Vegetarian Resource Groups website http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.htm. Spinach, beans and soy beans are good sources. Consuming the Vitamin C can help the absorption. Dr. Greger’s video in Jan 2011….http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/are-iron-pills-good-for-you/ cautions against iron tablets in healthy patients but some patients do need to take supplements. Whole foods are the best way to go if possible. Good luck.




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  4. Is there any research to support a recommended ferritin level for vegan or vegetarian women? I’m still in my child bearing years and while my cholesterol level and blood pressure have improved on 2 years of a plant based diet I’ve had a lot of difficulty with fatigue, particularly as the 2 years have progressed. My labs recently showed that while I don’t have anemia my ferritin level is at 10 ng/ml. B12 levels were also good just taking a high dose supplement once a week. Taking iron supplements makes a huge difference in my energy level, but I’d like to know how long to continue this and what ferritin level to work towards.




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  5. I’m not pregnant – but am mildly concerned about iron. I’m vegan, and a few years ago, a doctor told me my iron was low. I haven’t recently been tested but have since incorporated more kale into my diet in addition to spinach (the iron from which I understand isn’t easily absorbed). I also gave up caffeine (which I’ve read can hamper iron absorption), and added cauliflower to my kale/spinach stir-fries, thinking that that vitamin C would help with iron absorption.
    I’m not super concerned about iron since I feel good, but do you think these changes will help with the iron issue, and anything else you think I should do?




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  6. My daughter is pregnant. She has a chron disease. I am worring about what she can eat. And I am worring what the doctor told her.
    She could have a hard time to feed the baby. My question is.
    Which kind of milk she should feed the baby?
    Do you work as a regular doctor . Do you have a office?
    Do you think you could give a directions for my daughter ?




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    1. Hi Marta. Dr. Greger has some resources on crohns. Dr. ​McDougall has a “Find a Health Care Practitioner”​ page that may be helpful. We do not have a clinic or office, but a new promising medical center is opening in Washington, DC – the Barnard Medical Clinic, if that’s an option based on your location. Here is a factsheet on feeding infants. I also suggest she seek a dietitian. Her doctor should be able to refer one, or I can help, just let me know if that’s a route you’d like to take. I hope some of these links help.

      Best,
      Joseph




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  7. Hi, I’m 4 weeks pregnant with my first child. I’m vegan/plant based. I’m already taking my folic acid/vitamin d supplement – should I continue taking my vitamin b12 and omega algae alongside these? Any further guidance would be great in terms of vitamins and supplements needed when pregnant. Thank you!




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  8. Hi, Dr Greger. I love your work and books, especially Bird Flu. I have been vegan for seven years now and trying to eat healthy low-fat mainly raw, ripe fruits. Question: is it possible for someone to get anemic eating high fat, in other words, is a high-fat diet over 10 or 15% of calories the primary cause of anemia? I know low iron or low B12 can be the cause, but maybe it is because people are eating high-fat – 20, 30, 40%+ of calories. Thank you.




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  9. Dear Dott. Greger, I am pregnant and have been on a (mostly) plant based diet for quite a while now, so I am trying to get as much folic acid (and other vitamins) as I can from food. Regarding prenatal multivitamins, I am concerned about the list of chemicals I found in the ingredients of the most well known brand, so I chose a different one which seems to have a way shorter ingredients list that sound natural to me. Which kind of prenatal multivitamin you recommend? Or, which kind of additives/chemicals should be avoided? Thank you so much for your help, your website is an endless source of fundamental information in a sea of confusion! :)




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