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Should I take iron supplements?

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:12pm

Not unless blood tests show you have a deficiency. Several studies have shown that high blood levels of iron are associated with an increased risk of suffering heart attacks and cancers, particularly, those of the esophagus and bladder. A study from Harvard showed that it may be the meat source of iron, rather than just the iron itself, that causes the heart attacks and cancers. People who eat a lot of meat, fish and chicken have higher blood levels of iron than vegetarians. The iron in meat, fish and chicken is called heme iron, which is absorbed at a very high level, around 10-20 percent. On the other hand, the iron that you get from plants is absorbed very poorly; only one to three percent of the iron from leafy green vegetables and other plant sources of iron is absorbed.

You can find out if your iron level is too high by asking you doctor to draw blood for a test called transferrin iron binding saturation. People with a transferrin iron binding saturation of more than 60 percent are at increased risk for developing heart attacks and cancers. If your level is greater than 60 percent, you can reduce your intake of iron by restricting meat, fish, chicken and iron-supplemented foods, and you can get rid of extra iron by donating blood six or more times a year.

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