Why are low iron levels so common?
Mainly because we nowadays eat less of a diet that contains less of iron-rich meat courses than our voracious and hard-working ancestors. We also have a different beauty concept today with a thin body as the ideal and thus less energy-and mineral-rich food is consumed. Women who menstruate for three days or more therefore almost always need a supplement of iron to compensate for the blood loss. Other risk groups are athletes, growing youngsters, the pregnant and lactating. Grown men rarely suffer from iron deficiency.
What happens when the iron levels are low?
You may get tired, have concentration problems, bad hair and nails and feel generally weak. Low iron count has also been shown to have a negative impact on the learning ability as well as the physical ability. Iron status of the pregnant and those who plan pregnancy has an effect on the weight of the foetus. Even to such a degree that it affects the health status of a person during the whole lifetime. Also the uptake of cadmium is increased, which may lead to osteoporosis.
What forms of digestible iron are there?
The elemental iron is called organic or heme iron when it is bound to the proteins hemoglobin or myoglobin, as is the case in meat courses. All other forms of iron are inorganic or non-heme and this is when the iron molecule is chelated or bound to for instance salts (as in vegetables) starch, citrates or other chemical compunds. Our bodies can utilize both forms, but heme iron is vastly superior both in intake and tolerance.
How is the iron stored in the body?
Iron is stored, mostly in the liver, as ferritin or hemosiderin. In a blood test the Hb-value tells how much iron in the form of hemoglobin the body has available for transporting oxygen to the cells. The ferritin count is used to measure stored iron. Ferritin complexes are present in all cells, but most common in bone marrow,liver, and spleen. The liver's stores of ferritin are the primary physiologic source of reserve iron in the body. Iron deficiency first affects the storage iron in the body. Since iron is primarily required for hemoglobin, iron deficiency anemia is the primary clinical manifestation of iron deficiency.
What affects the uptake?
Coffee, tea, milk and whole-grain bread have a lessening effect on iron uptake, while Vitamin C, for instance in orange juice, has a positive effect. The heme iron in meat courses is being absorbed through a separate mechanism and is practically uninfluenced by what is eaten at the same time. The calcium in milk products is however regarded as having a generally lessening effect on iron uptake. The uptake of heme iron is not affected by simultaneously ingested food, drink or medication, since it follows a different and separate parallel uptake mechanism.
Can you get too much iron?
Yes, if you for instance suffer from the rare and hereditary disease of hemochromatose or if you suddenly are exposed to huge doses. The poisoning dose is considered to be 20 mg or more per kilo of body weight. The result is primarily nausea, but it may also be dangerous. This is the reason that iron supplements should always be kept out of reach for children. From heme iron only what is needed is absorbed. The rest remains inert in the gut, as opposed to non-heme iron, which leaves the not-absorbed part as toxic and reactive free iron ions in the stomach causing gastro-intestinal side-effects.. The efficacy of heme iron is so good, that a small dose is all that’s needed for iron replacement.
I understand that the source for heme iron is bovine blood from the food industry. What about BSE and such?
There is no BSE within the EU any longer and certification is very strict. Today this is not even theoretically a problem.
How safe is heme iron?
There have never been any serious side-effects or poisonings reported even after massive use since the 1970’ies. In clinical studies the ratio of side-effects is placebo level (lowest possible). It is unlikely for poisoning to occur with the low doses in heme iron tablets. Today the raw material has evolved and non-heme iron addition is not needed any more.
I heard heme iron could be carcinogenic
No, it can not. Why you may see this confusion is because heme sometimes is used as a measure of meat consumption and as anyone understands that consuming a lot of meat in different forms and everything that goes with it has health issues. Especially for meat that is prepared with nitrate salts, additives, spices, fat and flavors etc. that are often proven harmful to the human and even carcinogenous.
Heme iron is by definition the form of iron that is naturally bound to hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is the most important form of dietary iron, very efficient, has no known side-effects and is not carcinogenous.
The natural heme iron in the OptiFer® series of supplements has only good health implications, is very effective and is side-effect free in recommended doses.
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WHAT THE DOCTORS HAVE TO SAY
I have a number of patients that have taken heme iron preparations for years. They have kept a satisfactory iron balance without the unfortunately all-too-common side effects that are often associated with iron preparations.
Dietary-based treatment containing heme iron has few side effects and can be used efficiently to improve the iron status of women of reproductive age.