About Iron

What is iron?

iron body armor

Most people are familiar with the element iron (symbol Fe in the periodic table), which is one of the Earth’s most abundant and useful metals.

Iron is a core component of the alloy known as steel, and you use iron every day if you drive a car! Iron is a building block in the architecture all around us, as well as a building block of all plant and animal life.

Dietary iron is readily available through many types of food. However, nutritional deficiencies, increased iron needs and poor absorption of dietary iron mean that some people aren’t able to get adequate iron from their diets alone. For these reasons, iron deficiency is the #1 most common nutritional deficiency in the United States.

Iron is vital for maintaining energy levels and good health in general because it is an important part of your blood’s hemoglobin. Hemoglobin (in your red blood cells) helps supply your body’s cells with oxygen, so when you are low in iron, your body may not be getting the oxygen it needs. The end result is that you may feel tired, sluggish and worn out.

Iron supplements are recommended by doctors when dietary intake of iron cannot restore a person’s iron levels to normal in a satisfactory timeframe. However, the dose of iron your physician prescribes depends on your current storage level of iron, hemoglobin and the type of iron they want you to take.

Some forms of iron are better absorbed than others and therefore the dose prescribed depends on the type of iron. In addition, your doctor may recommend that you start with a smaller dose of iron and gradually increase the dose to minimize side effects.

  1. Jefferson Lab. The Periodic Table of Elements: The Element Iron. Retrieved from: http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele026.html March 8, 2012.
  2. National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Retrieved from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iron/ March 8, 2012.

What is elemental iron?

If you’ve shopped for iron supplements you may have noticed two different amounts of iron listed on the same package. The higher number is the total amount of iron in the supplement. The second, smaller number is the amount of elemental iron.

Elemental iron is the total amount of iron in the supplement available for absorption by your body. Each type of iron has a different percent of elemental iron. For instance:

  • Carbonyl has 100% elemental iron.
  • Ferrous fumarate has approximately 33% elemental iron.
  • Ferrous sulfate has 20% elemental iron.
  • Ferrous gluconate has 12% elemental iron.

Therefore, higher total amounts of ferrous gluconate may be prescribed by your doctor to increase iron stores as compared to the amount of ferrous fumarate prescribed.

The amount of elemental iron in a supplement is typically listed in the Supplement Facts panel. In addition, some iron supplements will indicate the total milligrams of elemental iron on the front of the package making it easy for consumers to compare different iron supplements.

  1. National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Retrieved from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iron/ March 8, 2012.

Why is iron important?

Just like you need your lungs to breathe in oxygen, you need your blood to deliver that oxygen to all of the cells throughout your body. Makes sense so far, right?

why iron is important

Iron is a part of that blood-oxygen delivery system, and without proper levels of iron, you may begin to feel the weakening effects of low iron: tired all of the time, pale, listless and irritable.

Each and every cell in your body needs oxygen to produce energy. Not just for exercise, but for everyday life: brushing your teeth energy, walking up the stairs energy, going to work energy, baking cookies energy.

When you have normal iron levels, you have enough energy in every one of your body cells. Without enough iron, your cells produce less energy.

How does iron help out? As oxygen moves from your lungs into the blood, iron helps your red blood cells to “grab” the oxygen and to carry it to all parts of your body. (Fun fact: Iron is the part of the hemoglobin molecule that makes blood red!)

Increased Iron Needs Contribute to Iron Deficiency

Even if you take in enough dietary iron, you may still be vulnerable to iron deficiency if you have higher iron needs than other individuals. Individuals with greater iron needs may include:

Who needs extra iron?

iron during pregnancy

Few people realize that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the most common cause of anemia in the U.S. Unfortunately, the side effects associated with most oral iron supplements makes it difficult for some to keep up with supplementation. That’s why Feosol offer three unique options for iron!

A high-potency iron supplement is doctor-recommended for people with iron deficiency, including both men and women, athletes, deficient individuals with low energy levels, pregnant women and seniors.

iron for athletic girls

Specific patients who may need an iron supplement include:

  • Adolescent females and women of child-bearing age (due to blood loss from menstruation)
  • Women trying to conceive
  • Pregnant women
  • Endurance athletes or athletes who train at high intensity
  • Patients with a chronic disease
  • Bariatric patients
  • Older/senior patients 65+

seniors need iron

Individuals with dietary restrictions, particularly vegetarians, are vulnerable to iron deficiency, despite the fact that many vegetarians eat a well-rounded diet of iron-rich foods. That’s because the iron found in plant-based foods (called non-heme iron) is not as well absorbed as iron found in animal based foods (heme iron).

Consider Iron Supplements

If you suspect you may not be getting adequate iron from your diet, or you fall into any of the above categories, ask your doctor about an iron test. If he or she determines that you are iron deficient, ask about iron supplements to help get your iron-levels back on track.

How do I know if I have iron deficiency anemia?

iron deficiency anemia

There are several symptoms that you can look for to help determine if you have an iron deficiency (lethargy, irritability, low energy, paleness, dizziness), but there’s no way to know for sure without a blood test and a doctor’s assessment and/or examination.

Iron deficiency is the single-most common nutritional deficiency in the U.S. If you have any of the symptoms above or if you are concerned about a lack of iron in your diet, talk to your healthcare provider about iron deficiency anemia testing. Keep in mind that some people are asymptomatic, or experience none of the common symptoms, so the only way to be sure is a blood test.

Blood Tests

The two most common blood tests performed for iron deficiency anemia are:

1. A blood test that measures hemoglobin

2. A blood test that measures percent of red blood cells

If your levels are too low, you may have iron deficiency anemia. Your healthcare provider will want to talk about any medications you are currently taking, your diet and eating habits, and he or she will rule out serious health problems that could have caused low iron in your blood.

Last you will discuss ways to manage your iron deficiency, including an iron-rich diet and supplementation.

Can I be tested for Iron deficiency anemia?

If you are concerned about iron deficiency anemia, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she may assess the iron in your blood with two common blood tests:

iron deficiency test

  • A test to measure the hemoglobin in your blood
  • A hematocrit to determine the percent of red blood cells in your blood

If your hemoglobin and your hematocrit are low, you may have iron deficiency anemia. Your healthcare provider will rule out serious health problems that could have caused low iron in your blood, and discuss ways you can get rid of your iron deficiency.

Can’t I get iron through food?

Iron is readily available through many types of food. However, nutritional deficiencies, increased iron needs and poor absorption of dietary iron mean that many people aren’t able to get adequate iron from their diets alone. For these reasons, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States.

iron rich foods

There are two types of iron found in food, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin and therefore found in animal foods including meat, fish and poultry.

Non-heme iron is found in plants and also added to fortified and enriched foods including cereal, some nutrition bars and bread. Absorption of heme iron ranges from 15-35% whereas non-heme iron absorption is 2-20%.

In addition, heme iron absorption is efficient and not significantly affected by what is eaten concurrently. However, absorption of non-heme iron is influenced by several dietary factors making what is eaten with a food rich in non-heme iron, important.

Food Combinations

In addition to choosing foods high in iron, you can increase your body’s absorption of non-heme iron if you pair it with the right foods. Both meat protein and vitamin C rich foods increase the body’s absorption of non-heme iron. Try eating iron-fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice or making a salsa or Texas caviar with iron-rich beans and vitamin C-rich tomatoes. You can also top a hamburger with slices of tomato so you better absorb the iron in your iron fortified hamburger bun. Another good suggestion – add vitamin C rich citrus fruit to spinach salad.

Dietary Restrictions Inhibit Iron Absorption

Individuals with dietary restrictions, particularly vegetarians, are vulnerable to iron deficiency, despite the fact that many vegetarians eat a well-rounded diet of iron-rich foods. That’s because the iron found in plant-based foods (called non-heme iron) is not as well absorbed as iron found in animal based foods (heme iron).

Increased Iron Needs Contribute to Iron Deficiency

Even if you take in enough dietary iron, you may still be vulnerable to iron deficiency if you have higher iron needs than other individuals. Individuals with greater iron needs may include:

Consider Iron Supplements

If you suspect you may not be getting adequate iron from your diet, or you fall into any of the above categories, ask your doctor about an iron test. If he or she determines that you are iron deficient, ask about iron supplements to help get your iron levels back on track.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nutrition for Everyone: Iron and Iron Deficiency. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html March 7, 2012.

Will I need a prescription to buy iron?

No, many iron supplements are available over-the-counter and can be purchased without a prescription.

While some brands require a prescription, Feosol offers three high-potency, over-the-counter forms of iron to give you options that fit your budget and lifestyle:

feosol three boxes

For your convenience, Feosol can be purchased at drug stores, convenience stores and grocery stores nationwide, available in the Vitamin or Supplement section.

What is the difference between heme and non-heme iron?

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. The difference between heme and non-heme iron is simple: heme iron is derived from hemoglobin; non-heme irons do not come from an animal source.

  Heme Iron Non-Heme Iron
What is it? Food sources that contain hemoglobin also contain heme iron: pork, red meat, fish & poultry. All non-meat based iron is non-heme iron.
Foods that contain iron One serving of chicken livers, clams, or roasted beef tenderloin contains all the iron you need for a day.
heme iron in clams
Non-heme iron is found in vegetables, grains, iron-fortified cereal, lentils & beans.
iron fortified cereal
Absorption Heme iron is absorbed better than non-heme iron, and its absorption is not affected by other things you eat. You absorb 15-35% of the heme iron you eat! Non-heme iron is not absorbed by the body as well as heme iron. Only 2-20% of non-heme iron is absorbed.

Heme iron is pretty simple: you eat it, you absorb it. It’s not affected by the all the other food you are eating. However, there are many factors that affect the absorption of non-heme iron, so you have to be aware of the things you eat and drink that can inhibit non-heme iron absorption, such as coffee, milk and certain minerals that compete with iron for absorption.

On the other hand, iron absorption is enhanced when both heme and non-heme iron are taken together, which is where the idea for Feosol Complete came from! It is the only iron supplement available over-the-counter that provides both heme and non-heme iron in a single, small pill.