Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, so if you’ve been told you have low iron and been prescribed an iron tablet by your GP, you’re not alone. However, not all iron tablets are created equal…

Most pharmacy bought iron tablets contain a type of iron called ferrous fumarate or ferrous sulphate, which is very poorly absorbed in the gut. It causes constipation and digestive inflammation, further reducing the ability of the gut to absorb iron. This is what’s found in ferrograd and feroglobulin supplements. Iron that is not absorbed into the bloodstream can linger in the gut, feeding bad bacteria and parasites, exacerbating digestive issues (like constipation) and precipitate the cycle of iron deficiency. The most bioavailable and best absorbed forms of iron are iron bisglycinate and iron amino acid chelate.

Most pharmacy purchased iron supplements use a very high dose of iron, around 100mg. This is usually because they are using ferrous fumarate – which is poorly absorbed – so they need to use a very high dose to enable some level of absorption. Again, this leaves a lot of unabsorbed iron lingering in the gut, causing constipation, inflammation and feeding bad bacteria and parasites.

Research has found that taking iron tablets every day causes the liver to release something called hepcidin, which temporarily blocks iron absorption. The research has found that by taking iron every second day, hepcidin is not released and iron absorption is optimised.

Aside from dietary intake, another big factor to consider is iron loss. Many women experience heavy menstrual bleeding causing monthly iron loss that is too large to be repleted via dietary means alone. In these instances, identifying the root cause behind the heavy menstrual bleeding (e.g. endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, excess oestrogen…) and then treating that, can help to reduce iron loss and resolve the need for iron tablets.

Speak to a qualified naturopath or nutritionist before taking iron supplements to ensure you’re taking the best dose and form of iron to increase your levels! Or, you can check out our Blood Test Interpretation Service, or our e-book How to Read Your Own Blood Tests.

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