Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Q & A: Improving Iron Absorption with Vitamin C

My cast iron Griswold #8; one of many ways to get some iron in your diet.

 Q:         I have been trying to increase the level of iron in my blood for the past year. I am on a larger dose of iron, yet no improvement. I had heard taking the iron with orange juice can help the iron be used by the body, and so I tried adding orange juice. But the acidity from the juice really bothers me, so then I end up not taking my iron at all.
Are there any other options instead of the orange juice? H.M. Grand Rapids

A.        Yes, there are a number of options that can help boost iron absorption.  You can take  your pill with water, and include any vitamin-C containing food along with. It’s the vitamin C that has been proven to help enhance absorption of iron. Here is a list of commonly-eaten vitamin C foods.

            What you don’t want to do is take your iron tablet with milk, or at the same time you take your calcium. Why? Because calcium blocks some of the absorption of iron. I had a patient once who was faithfully taking her iron for over a year, but had no change in her blood level of iron (hemoglobin). Upon questioning, I learned she was taking her iron with a big glass of milk; her iron pills didn’t even have a chance to get into her system.

            Some of you may be wondering why take an iron pill when there are foods that contain iron (more about iron-containing foods here).  It’s true that if your iron levels are OK or slightly low, you can choose iron-containing foods and keep your iron levels good. But some people have had a low blood iron level for so long that all of their body’s stores of iron have become depleted. At that point, a larger-dose  iron tablet is required, and even with that, it can take months to build the stores of iron so that the blood iron levels finally reflect that there is enough iron in the body.

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