The irony of iron supplementation is perhaps that it could be thought of as a double-edged sword. Too little will hurt you just as too much will. Iron’s main functions are to transport oxygen to our tissues (as the iron containing protein hemoglobin), to help mitochondria in producing energy via ATP synthesis, to act as a co-factor in thyroid hormone synthesis, to aid in the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine into both Dopa and Dopamine, and to strengthen our immune system function.
Iron loss can be caused by low stomach acid, vegetarian or vegan diets, blood loss due to either menstruation, trauma or intestinal bleeding and as an unfortunate side effect of stomach bypass surgery. Overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprophen can also cause this due to the intestinal bleeding that is a side effect of their use.
Low iron is classified as one of the types of anemia, which can have symptoms of fatigue, poor concentration, hair loss, restless leg syndrome, intolerance to cold and soreness and atrophy of the dorsum of the tongue in addition to other symptoms. Whereas, high iron which affects up to 1 in 250 people, is known as the hereditary condition hemochromatosis. This can cause liver disease, diabetes, heart failure, erectile dysfunction and severe fatigue.
Heme iron, which becomes hemoglobin, is naturally found in poultry, fish and red meat, with the highest source being liver. In fact, one of the old-school remedies for iron deficiency anemia is liver and onions once per week. Non-heme iron is found in black-strap molasses, certain vegetables, legumes and Stout beer. Phytate and polyphenol containing foods that can inhibit iron’s absorption include coffee, tea, soy and nuts, while supplements such as Vitamin C can enhance it’s absorption.
In addition to some of the previously mentioned symptoms, iron deficiency anemia is clinically diagnosed using serum ferritin blood tests and the presence of the symptoms of bluish tinge to the whites of the eyes, and beeturia (which is a reddening of urine after eating red beets).
Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses iron deficiency mainly as a pattern known as “liver blood deficiency”, that also contains many of the symptoms mentioned previously. It’s approach to treatment of this condition includes eating liver as well as use of a common herbal formula known as “8 Treasure Decoction” or “Ba Zhen Tang”.
As far as the interventions go, supplementation of Iron Bis-Glycinate at 30mg 3 times per day after food, or liver and onions with medical monitoring of blood ferritin levels is done.
This concludes the first season of the 2 Minute Health Intervention Podcast. Join us again in the New Year for more informative episodes on what you can do in 2 minutes to positively affect your health.
Be Well and Be Zen
Gaby., Iron., Nutritional Medicine (2011)., Ch. 30., ps.145-51, ISBN13: 978-0-9828850-0-0. Fritz Perlberg Publishing, Concord, NH.
Benski, R. Barolet., Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas & Strategies (1990)., ps.145-150, 254, 259., ISBN: 0-939616-10-6., Eastland Press, Seattle WA.