Iron Absorption on a Vegan Diet – Part II

The Pitfalls of Iron Supplementation

Supplementation can be problematic.

Supplementation can be problematic.

The popular media will tell you that vegans are likely to be iron deficient and at risk for anemia. This prompts many vegans, especially women to take iron supplements. While this may seem like the smart choice to avoid a deficiency, there is much research to prove the contrary. Before taking an iron supplement you may want to consider the potential risks listed below.
Possible side effects of iron supplementation:

• Increased hydroxyl radical formation – This is the most dangerous reactive oxygen species (free radical) in the body. It can easily tear apart cell membranes and damage DNA. Read a study here – Iron status may be link in degenerative diseases

• Gastro-intestinal side effects – Nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark colored stools, and/or abdominal distress.

• Decreased iron absorption – The greater amount of elemental iron contained in the supplement, the faster the body shuts downs the means for absorption. Smaller doses in food are more readily absorbed and do not turn off the mechanisms for absorption.

• Increased inflammatory response – This effect has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease

• Excessive iron build up in the liver and blood – Excess accumulation of iron can cause organ damage such as cirrhosis of the liver and heart failure.

• Health risk to children – Death has occurred in children from ingesting 200 mg of iron It is important to keep iron supplements tightly capped and out of children’s reach.

Despite popular misconceptions, many plant foods are quite high in iron. In fact, over 70% of the iron ingested by the average American comes from plants. But this iron can be difficult to absorb in its normal molecular state. By adding a “reducing agent” such as vitamin C (in whole food form, i.e. red peppers, broccoli, oranges), the rate of absorption increases and provides adequate uptake of the ingested iron.

With minor adjustments to your current diet you can increase your iron status without risking the negative side effects of iron supplementation.

Check out Iron Absorption on a Vegan Diet – Part I & Iron Absorption on a Vegan Diet – Part III

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