For the last several decades, iron supplements have been routinely handed out like candy. Because iron is a basic requirement for cell growth and longevity, it is often assumed that people should supplement with extra iron. However, this faulty belief may carry serious health risks.
High Iron Linked to Heart Attack Risk and More
In one Finnish study of more than 2,000 individuals, researchers found that stored iron was more strongly linked to heart attack risk than either high blood pressure or high cholesterol. It is believed that women who menstruate regularly are less likely to experience heart attacks because iron levels are reduced by the loss of blood each month. The same line of logic explains why men who donate blood regularly also experience fewer heart attacks.
High levels of iron are linked to more than just heart attack risk:
– One study showed that iron supplementation disrupted the balance of gut flora in children. Children who were given iron supplements showed an increase in harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria.
– Research indicates that lower levels of iron can actually be protective against infectious disease, leukemia and lymphatic cancers.
– Other studies demonstrate that iron produces free radicals which accelerate the aging process.
It is easy to see why high iron is a common problem these days, when you consider that the modern diet is heavy in muscle meats and countless foods which contain added iron. Typical staples in the American diet – such as breads, pastas and cereals – are required by federal law to be enriched with added iron. In addition, iron is also present in many multivitamin and mineral supplements.
A common misconception is that anemia is directly linked to iron deficiency, so iron supplements are often the first line of defense when anemia is suspected. However, anemia can be caused by other factors as well, such as reduced thyroid function and vitamin B12 deficiency. Supplementing iron in these cases is unnecessary and can exacerbate the problem by not treating the true underlying issue.
It is far more logical to recommend iron supplementation only when tests show an actual deficiency in iron. Using hemoglobin or red blood cell tests to determine iron deficiency may not only be inaccurate, but could be harmful if iron supplementation is given when it is not needed. Even when a true iron deficiency exists, it is safer to eat foods naturally high in iron than rely on supplements.
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