Why It’s Better to Take a Multivitamin Without Iron
For the greater part of the 20th century, parents have encouraged their children to eat their spinach. Who can forget the cartoon character Popeye who became stronger after eating a can of this vegetable? The reason that parents want their children to eat spinach is that it is a rich source of iron. Iron is an essential nutrient that the body needs to produce hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the component of red blood cells that carries the oxygen around to the various cells in the body. Muscle cells use myoglobin to store oxygen, and iron is necessary to avoid muscle fatigue after exercise. While it is necessary to have a sufficient amount of iron in your diet in order to avoid anemia, which is a condition caused by insufficient iron in the bloodstream characterized by fatigue and shortness of breath, an overabundance of iron can cause toxicity. Iron also supports healthy immune function, as it is a component of both T-cells and white blood cells, which fight infection.
Dietary Sources of Iron
The best way to make sure you have enough iron is to get it through dietary sources. Some examples of foods that are rich in this mineral include the following:
- Dried Beans and Fruits
- Clams and Oysters
- Egg Yolk
- Lean Red Meat
- Oily Fish, such as Tuna and Salmon
- Dark Meat Found in Poultry
- Whole Grains
Why Supplementation Is Not Recommended
The body is able to regulate the absorption of dietary iron as food passes through the intestines. Unfortunately, this regulatory mechanism is not as efficient when iron supplements are used. The intestines are unable to block excess amounts of iron supplied by supplements, so it is possible to build up toxic levels of the mineral. For these reasons, it is important to take iron supplements only if you have a confirmed diagnosis of iron deficiency and you have your iron levels checked regularly by your physician. Take only the dosage recommended by your doctor, and stop taking the supplements when you have alleviated your deficiency.
The Dangers of Iron Overdose
When too much iron builds up in the bloodstream and in muscle tissues, severe and significant damage can be the consequence. An overabundance of this mineral can cause heart disease because of the free radicals released that cause oxidative damage to the heart cells. Prolonged iron toxicity can cause cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, or chronic hepatitis, both of which can lead to death. Additionally, an overabundance of this mineral in the bloodstream can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare but particular aggressive and fast growing form of liver cancer. Other diseases associated with chronically elevated iron levels include the following: colorectal cancer; neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease; inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis; and diabetes.
The Bottom Line
While it is essential to have an adequate amount of iron in your body, it is best to get it through your diet. Never take iron supplements without a doctor’s prescription. This means that if you haven’t been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, you should also avoid taking multivitamins that contain iron.