Iron deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiency in the world. It is believed that about half a billion people in the world suffer from iron deficiency. Iron deficiency develops step by step: first body´s iron stores are depleted (ferritin) and after that anemia, i.e. low hemoglobin level, will develop. Iron deficiency anemia is most common in children before age 2, teenagers and women in fertile age. Men have 4–5 g and women 2–3 g of iron in their body. Most of the iron is in hemoglobin of the red blood cells and enzymes consisting of iron. The rest of the iron is body´s iron stores, which are possible to measure by checking your ferritin level.
What are the most common causes of iron deficiency?
- little amount of absorbable iron from food
- increased need for iron, e.g. during pregnancy, growth phase or menstruation
- increased loss of iron due to certain illnesses and e.g. intestine bleeding caused by internal parasites
- excessive use of dairy products
We get two different forms of iron daily from food: heme-iron from animal products and non-heme-iron from plant-based products. How do these two forms differ from each other? The difference lies in the absorption.
The absorption of iron just like other minerals, vitamins and nutrients, takes place in the small intestine. Iron from non-heme iron is absorbed around 1–20% and 15–35% from heme-iron. Omnivores get on average 10–15% heme-iron from food, but due to its better absorption, it makes up to almost 40% of the total daily iron need.
The absorption rate of iron from food for women in fertile age is only 10% and 5% for men. In case of iron deficiency, iron absorption increases to 10–20%.
Weak absorption of iron is taken into account when calculating the recommended daily intake of iron. E.g. women in fertile age need about 1,3 mg of iron a day and men 1 mg. In order to achieve this, we should get about 13 mg of iron a day.
How much iron should a vegetarian get from food?
As a vegetarian, you should get about twice as much iron per day as the recommended daily intake, i.e. 28 mg due to weaker absorption of non-heme iron.
What contributes to the absorption of heme- and non-heme iron?
|Iron form||Increases absorption||Decreases absorption|
|HEME-IRON||Low iron stores (ferritin)||Higher iron stores (ferritin)|
|Small amount of heme-iron from food||Greater amount of heme-iron from food|
|Meat||Calcium (mainly dairy products)|
|NON-HEME-IRON||Low iron stores (ferritin)||Higher iron stores (ferritin)|
|Pregnancy||Stomach´s low acidity|
|Certain illnesses, e.g. aplastic anemia, hemolytic anemia, hemacromatosis||Phytates (whole grain, legumes, bran)|
|Certain organic acids, e.g. vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and citric acid||Iron binding phenolic compounds, e.g. tea, cocoa, wine|
|Meat, fish, seafood||Calcium (mainly dairy products)|
How to increase the absorption of non-heme-iron from food?
It is a well-known fact that the consumption of vitamin C together with food increases the absorption of non-heme-iron. It is also important to avoid the consumption of calcium-rich food at the same time with iron. E.g. dairy products contain a lot of calcium, which binds iron and, thus, decreases the overall absorption of iron in the body. Calcium has often been added to plant-based drinks as well.
Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus. Phytates can be found from whole grain and legumes. In our digestive system, phytates form insoluble complexes usually with calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron. Such complexes make the absorption of minerals more difficult. You should not worry about phytates if your menu does not consist of a large amount of whole grain and legumes.
Did you know that by acidyfying and rising bread you can reduce the amount of phytates in crops? In addition, soaking and germinating (e.g. raw buckwheat) also breaks down phytates and thus, improves the absorption of minerals from such food.
Nôgel´s iron food supplements contain 30 or 60 mg of elemental iron in iron bisglycinate form. Children´s iron syrup contains 20 mg of iron bisglycinate in daily dosage (2 teaspoons). Bioavailability of iron bisglycinate is up to 90%, which is the highest among iron salts used in food supplements (and also in most of the medications). Nôgel does not use common synthetic fillers. In addition to iron bisglycinate, pill supplements contain Estonian wild nettle (analyzed in laboratory), organic Korean chlorella, organic Acerola cherry powder as natural vitamin C (improves iron absorption) and carnauba wax (3%). Iron syrup for children contains only three natural ingredients in addition to iron bisglycinate: organic orange juice concentrate for natural vitamin C, organic pear juice concentrate and nettle tea from high-quality and pure Estonian nettle, which we prepare ourselves.
Read more about iron bisglycinate from HERE.
Nôgel plants a tree for every 30 mg iron jar sold in co-operation with Estonian State Forest Management Centre and donates 5 cents to local children´s charity foundation for every other product sold. The content of iron and vitamin C in the supplements have been checked in laboratory.
A.Aro, M.Mutanen, M.Uusitupa. Nutrition Science. 4th-7th volume, 2017