Iron Fights Fatigue From the Inside Out

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I’ve been really tired lately and my doctor thinks I’m iron-deficient. I’m in my 60s and I haven’t lost any blood, so how can this be? Should I take the iron supplement he recommended?”

–R.D. Jackson, New Jersey

ANSWER: Iron is sold over-the-counter in supplement form, but it’s a naturally-occurring mineral that’s made in the body. Even though the World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world, I don’t frequently recommend iron supplements for people complaining of fatigue. It’s because most U.S. citizens have an adequate supply. Iron can be hard on the gut, causing nausea, cramping and constipation.

Iron is necessary to make a protein called hemoglobin, which acts like a tow truck and lugs oxygen all over the body. It’s amazing that humans can stash some iron away until it’s needed again, so you might say it’s recyclable. And speaking of ‘going green,’ your stool can turn this color when you take iron. It’s easy to overdo iron since it accumulates, and because it’s dangerous to tots, always lock up your medicine cabinets.

You said you were tired in your letter to me, but there are other symptoms that could alert one to an iron deficiency. For example, you may have trouble concentrating, or feel cranky and depressed. Having pale skin and a sore tongue are dead giveaways. You might have brittle nails or be prone to infections because your immune system is weak. And your heart may beat like crazy with very little exertion. Other conditions and nutritional deficiencies paint the same ‘picture,’ so teasing out iron deficiency from other problems is not easy. And one more thing, Dr. John Lohrey, an oncologist who practices in Tulsa, Oklahoma made this great point: Anyone besides a menstruating female who is iron deficient should have a colonoscopy in order to rule out colon cancer. It doesn’t matter if the stools don’t show blood in them, as bleeding can be very slight or noncontinuous.  Having this test done can save lives because it could detect colon cancer early on.

If appropriate blood testing finds that you are legitimately deficient in iron, then, of course, this nutrient will breathe life back into you, very quickly…in about 2 or 3 months. Doctors utilize many tests to determine iron levels.  Two fairly reliable blood tests include “serum ferritin” or “transferrin saturation ratio.” Eating iron-rich foods such as clams, oysters, mussels, animal liver, beans, lentils, and pumpkin seeds can improve levels, especially if you drink orange juice with it. The vitamin C in OJ bolsters iron absorption.

As for supplements, I prefer a “polysaccharide” complex, like Nu-Iron or Niferex. Let’s take a closer look at who is most prone to iron deficiency:

People who take drug muggers of iron, such as aspirin, butalbital, indomethacin, doxycycline, Pepcid, Zantac, Questran, or Soma Compound among others.

Women who experience heavy periods.

People who have a minor perforation in their GI tract because it causes a slow and steady leak of blood.

Pregnant women and vegetarians.

People who have kidney problems, especially if you are undergoing dialysis.

People who drink a lot of dark grape juice or red wine.  Animal studies suggest these interfere with iron usage.

Did You Know?
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