Iron Absorption - Why your supplement isn't working

Iron absorption isn’t the sexiest of topics, but the topic seems to have come up more recently for me. It also happens to be the number 1 deficiency on the planet. I recently ran into a friend who mentioned that her iron supplement doesn’t make her feel any better or worse than when she didn’t take one. As such, I thought I’d share my recommendations for anyone who is not absorbing iron efficiently.

This post may be geared towards my female friends, as the need for iron supplementation isn’t as prevalent in males. Sometimes though, an iron supplement may be necessary for high level athletes or anyone experiencing leaky gut. It’s also worth mentioning that this friend of mine happens to lift heavy weight at the gym!

Here are some things to consider when it comes to iron supplementation:

  1. What type of Iron Supplement are you using?

There are two types of iron forms (Ferrous and Ferric form). Most supplements use the ferrous form, as it’s most effectively absorbed and stored. However, the ferric form of iron isn’t useless altogether. The ferric form acts as a transporter type of iron. This is because it binds to transferrin (iron binding blood plasma). Since iron shifts between the two forms - it might be worth your while to supplement using both forms and assess your symptoms.

  1. Check your gut.

As with all minerals, iron requires an acidic environment. This point comes back to the gut. To effectively absorb food a healthy amount of stomach acid is needed and this is the same for proper iron absorption. Do you need to increase stomach acid? Try a zinc supplement and pair your iron with a non-buffered Vitamin C. The use of Vitamin C is due to its ascorbic acid. Are you using over the counter antacids? The overuse of antacids to counter things such as heartburn may affect acidity in the body as it has an alkalizing effect (something not beneficial in the case of low stomach acid). A digestive enzyme with HCL (hydrochloric acid) may also be helpful.

  1. Do you even Paleo?

I know the topic of Paleo has been overdone and the health field has poured out tons of work on the pros and cons of the Paleolithic style of eating, but it’s definitely relevant in this case. I’m going to add to this when I say that grains and legumes (frowned upon in the Paleo community) can be a possible factor in affecting iron absorption. The reason? Phytates. Without drowning you with information on phytates, I will simply say that phytates inhibit iron absorption, causing the body to excrete the mineral as waste before it is properly absorbed.

  1. You’re anemic, but are you actually low in iron or are you just drama?

Why you always lyin? Why you always lyin? Ok Just kidding, you’ve done medical tests and you’ve concluded that your definitely iron deficient, but what if you’ve self diagnosed yourself and display anemic symptoms? Did you know that fatigue (something heavily tied with anemia) could be a cause of things such as b-vitamins, Zinc, Copper (which also plays a role in iron transport) and Vitamin C (to name a few)

Our bodies are complex. There’s definitely a lot more to iron absorption than what I’ve written here, but I hope this serves as a starting line in your pursuit for better iron absorption.

Aside from supplements, some good iron sources include…

  • Liver (Beef, Chicken, Lamb)
  • Steak
  • Prunes
  • Cooked Greens

Till next time,

Marc