Iron is an essential mineral that is required for human life because it forms an integral component of many proteins and enzymes that maintain optimal health. Much of the iron in the body is found in red blood cells which are responsible in carrying oxygen to every cell in the body. Iron also is involved in producing the body’s energy source called the ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The extra iron is not excreted; instead it is stored in the liver, bone marrow, spleen, and muscles. Iron deficiency results in poor oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells, which results to fatigue, poor work performance and decreased immunity. However, in excessive amounts, iron can be highly toxic and sometimes fatal.
Iron deficiency can cause anemia like cancer, kidney problems and heart problems. While iron supplementation can reverse iron deficiency problems, taking it together with other supplements should be done with caution as they may interact causing either toxic or diminished effect of either one of or both of these substances. Read on about how iron interacts with some herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements:
- Beta-carotene – Beta-carotene may enhance the absorption of iron from iron-fortified wheat and corn flour, and rice. It is not advisable to take extra beta-carotene as there it would not make much difference in iron absorption unless levels of beta-carotene are too low.
- Riboflavin – Taking riboflavin supplements may improve the way iron supplements work in some people with anemia. But this effect is probably significant only in people with low levels of riboflavin.
- Vitamin A –Vitamin A appears to be involved in moving iron from where it is stored in the body to red blood cells developing in the bone marrow. There, iron is used to build hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Taking vitamin A supplements seems to improve iron levels in people whose iron levels are too low. Recent studies suggest that vitamin A and beta-carotene may improve iron absorption from iron-fortified wheat and corn flour, and rice. However, it is unlikely that taking vitamin A supplements would have significant effects on iron status in people who have enough vitamin A to start with.
- Vitamin C – Regardless of the source (food or supplements) taking vitamin C and iron together helps the body absorb the iron. But, taking a vitamin C supplement to improve absorption of iron probably isn’t necessary for most people, especially if their diet contains plenty of vitamin C.
- Calcium – Calcium makes it harder for the body to absorb iron either from food or supplements. However, in people who have enough stored iron, this probably isn’t a problem. But if you are iron deficient or might become iron deficient, minimize this interaction by separating your intake of calcium and iron. Don’t take calcium supplements at mealtime or when you take iron supplements.
- Zinc – Under some circumstances iron can interfere with how the body absorbs zinc, and vice versa. But food stops the interaction. To get maximum benefit from zinc or iron supplements, it’s a good idea to take them with food.
- Acacia – Acacia forms an insoluble gel with some forms of iron. It isn’t known whether this leads to a significant interaction when the two are ingested together.
- Soy – Soy protein seems to reduce the body’s ability to take in iron. If you are iron deficient, choose fermented soy products. They seem to interfere with iron absorption less. However, the real importance of the interaction between soy and iron has not been determined.
“Iron” Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/912.html
“Iron” Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/iron-000309.htm
“Iron” University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/iron-000309.htm