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Iron - What You Need To Know?

Updated: Jan 18




Iron is an essential element for blood production. About 70% of your body’s iron is found in the red blood cells of the blood known as hemoglobin, as well as in muscle cells called myoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential in transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues, whilst myoglobin, in muscle cells, accepts, stores, transports and releases oxygen.


Low iron levels are common, and they can lead to unpleasant symptoms like tiredness, poor concentration and frequent bouts of illness. However, iron deficiency is not always easy to notice, especially in its early stages.


Thus, iron supplements are a great way to reverse a deficiency, especially if diet changes does not bring any benefits.


What are the symptoms of low iron levels?


If low iron levels left untreated, it can be developed into a more serious condition known as iron deficiency anemia (IDA), where the body doesn’t contain enough healthy, oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Some of the symptoms include:


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s recommended to conduct diagnostic testing options with your healthcare provider to identify your iron levels.


Who will be beneficial from iron supplements?


The main aim to consume iron supplements is to reverse low iron levels or treat iron deficiency anemia. Iron supplements can provide results quicker than diet interventions and can be used as a treatment method of choice. These supplements can be particularly helpful for those who are unable to maintain a good iron status through diet alone, including:





How much can I consume?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults (19 – 50 years) is 8mg daily for men, 18 mg for women, 27 mg for pregnancy and 9 mg for lactation. Higher amounts in women and pregnancy are due to blood loss through menstruation and rapid growth of fetus requiring extra blood circulation during pregnancy.

The tolerable upper intake level of iron is 45 mg daily for all males and females ages 14 and above.


Confusion with iron supplements


There are several types of iron available as over-the-counter supplements, eg, ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate or ferric pyrophosphate. Confusion is also caused by two number amounts listed on the label, a higher number and a lower number. What is the difference?


Elemental vs chemical form of iron


When there’s two iron amounts are listed on the label, the larger number is the chemical compound form, which means the iron is bound to salts (eg. ferrous sulfate), where the smaller number refers to the amount of iron in the compound, which is also known as the elemental iron. Elemental iron is the more important number as it refers to the amount available for the body to absorb. Most often a physician will not specify in prescription if the iron amount is chemical or elemental iron. Thus, always refer to your healthcare professional if you are not sure.


Different types of supplemental Iron


All types of supplemental iron help to increase red blood cell production but vary in cost and amounts of elemental iron. Some clinical studies have shown that ferrous gluconate is better absorbed than ferrous sulfate. However, ferrous gluconate contains less elemental iron than ferrous sulfate, thus a greater dosage is needed to correct a deficiency. It is also more expensive than ferrous sulfate.


Lipofer, the patented form of iron pyrophosphate


Lipofer is a water-dispersible mironized source of iron that has been microencapsulated to boost iron absorption and reduce unwanted organoleptic characteristics. Most iron sources tend to interact with vitamin C, leading to undesirable organoleptic changes in color and flavor of the final product. Usually, formulators can only incorporate 15% of iron RDA into edible supplement, due to the metallic taste of the metal. But with the microencapsulation technology used, Lipofer offset the characteristic metallic taste of iron solutions and protect vitamins or unsaturated fatty acids from the oxidative capacity of free iron. Lipofer contains food grade iron pyrophosphate that may be used in milk and dairy products, dietary supplements and infant formula. Lipofer is not a drug and targets the needs of pregnant or nursing millennial women. Besides that, Lipofer provides 100% RDA of iron and have a higher bioavailability than other forms of iron – 3.5x more bioavailable than ferric pyrophosphate and 2.7x than ferrous sulfate. Furthermore, iron absorption via this delivery system is 5 times higher compared to traditional iron salts.


As a nutshell, iron supplements can help reverse iron deficiency when dietary changes alone are unsuccessful. Certain group of population, including pregnant women, heavy exercisers and those with certain medical conditions are more susceptible to low iron levels and should get their iron levels tested regularly.


References:

1. Soppi ET. Iron deficiency without anemia - a clinical challenge. Clin Case Rep. 2018 Apr 17;6(6):1082-1086. doi: 10.1002/ccr3.1529. PMID: 29881569; PMCID: PMC5986027.

2. Pasricha SR, Tye-Din J, Muckenthaler MU, Swinkels DW. Iron deficiency. Lancet. 2021 Jan 16;397(10270):233-248. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32594-0. Epub 2020 Dec 4. PMID: 33285139.

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