Supplementation—should you or shouldn’t you?
Iron is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is said to make red blood cells and functions as the oxygen transport system of the body. Once iron is absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s ultimately stored in the ferritin molecule.
But, on the other hand, it fuels bacteria, virus, and parasites.
Unless iron is eliminated through blood loss, as in the case of menstruation, child birth, physical injury or blood donation, most of it remains in the body once it’s stored. So, as we age, our iron numbers are known to rise. While this was once thought to be harmless, significant studies now show iron overload as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease that lands right behind smoking in severity.
In fact, about 10% of the American population—which correlates to over one million people—have a genetic predisposition for iron overload. (Although, I have a hunch the number is much higher). While menstruating women tend to be “safe” from these elevated ferritin (a protein carrying iron) levels, menopausal women and men of any age are at risk.
Research also shows that females 55 to 65 years of age experience a doubling of ferritin. Some researchers believe that when ferritin iron is released from protein, free radicals are formed that oxidize cholesterol—which clings to artery walls—forming dangerous plaque.
Further, it’s been estimated that for every 1% increase in ferritin levels, your risk for cardiovascular disease shoots up by 4%! WOW. Who knew?
And the risks don’t end at heart disease. Too much iron also accelerates aging by creating oxidative stress that causes cell damage and unwanted DNA changes. Plus, iron overload has been linked to arthritis, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
When it comes to the question of should you or shouldn’t you supplement with iron, you might find yourself confused. Anemia—a condition in which the blood cannot carry sufficient oxygenation required for optimum health—and menstruating women have historically been directed to take iron.
However, you can also be anemic if your red blood cells are low in hemoglobin, or if you are just low on red blood cells or have a shortage of bio-available copper—iron’s kissing cousin. Adult anemia is usually caused by an iron, folic acid, copper, and/or B12 deficiency, and your body cannot properly manufacture hemoglobin without these critical nutrients.
Regardless, fortifying your body’s production of ceruloplasmin—the copper and iron binding enzyme in the liver is key. The best way to do this is with fortifying Vitamin A (think cod liver oil) and broad spectrum liver support (like Bile Builder and “Liver-Lovin” Formula).
To know the true state of your iron levels, at your next blood test, have your physician order a ferritin test, first and foremost. In addition, get a CBC or complete blood count. A normal red blood cell or erythrocyte reading will be between 4.2 to 5.4 million cells/mcL for women and 4.7 to 6.1 million cells/mcL for men.
Low Hemoglobin (Hb) would be under 12 g/dL for women and 14 g/dL for men. Larger than normal RBCs indicate a B12 and/or a folate deficiency, whereas small red blood cells suggest iron deficiency or sometimes lead poisoning.
A Healthy Balance
If you’re concerned you have an iron overload, there are simple ways to chelate iron. IP6 made from rice bran is a popular method, which in addition to iron, is also a chelator of copper, zinc, lead, arsenic, manganese, magnesium, and cadmium.
You should also donate blood four times per year—one of the best ways of all to help prevent cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s. Prior to donating, ensure that you’ve had a nutrient-rich meal and are fully hydrated—and do avoid strenuous activities and alcohol consumption for several hours after donation.
Finally, keep in mind that UNI KEY offers one of the rare iron-free (as well as copper-free) multivitamins available on the market in a male and female version. For females who do need an iron-boost, a with-iron (but still copper-free) version is also available.
Remember that whether you’re one of the growing number inflicted with too much iron, or you’re an iron deficient anemic, both can be corrected.
If you’d like to learn your exact levels, a simple blood test will provide answers—and answer the question, to supplement or not to supplement.