Gas. Bloating. Cramping. Constipation. All of the above, out of nowhere? Perhaps you’ve been wondering if it’s IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Or maybe it’s your “vitamins”.  Do you take an iron supplement?  I’ve met quite quite a few people who weren’t taking the iron supplements prescribed by their M.D. despite the diagnosis of anemia—a potentially serious deficiency in oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. Why weren’t they taking their iron prescription? They each told me it was because it made them feel so bad.

Despite what you may have heard, side effects such as nausea, abdominal cramping and constipation are NOT what you should experience on an iron supplement. The very reason you may be experiencing these side effects tells us that the iron product itself is not being well absorbed.

There are two possible reasons for this. For one,  if you don’t produce enough stomach acid, you won’t absorb iron, or calcium, for that matter.  These minerals dissolve only in an acidic environment, so insufficient acid is a limiting factor for its absorption.  Speak to a nutritionist about assessing your digestive capacity if you believe this could be your problem.

Secondly, you may be using a poorly absorbed iron compound.  Ferrous sulfate is a form of iron available in pharmacies that is especially famous for its side effects on the gastrointestinal system.  This widely available compound is cheap but it is akin to trying to digest rocks. Ferrous fumarate is not much better as it too requires an acidic medium for dissolution.

Thank goodness for chelated minerals.  Chelated, meaning “bound” or “attached”, means that the mineral is bound to a protein or specific protein component called an amino acid.  Minerals found in foods, such as in spinach, beef and beans are naturally chelated to the proteins contained within them.  This feature helps the minerals cross cell membranes, specifically, from the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.  While natural iron-rich foods are ideal as a source of iron for those with low blood levels, the amount one needs to ingest to increase iron levels to where they should be is often not practical, nor will it happen quickly.  Chelated mineral supplements consisting of iron glycinate, for example, are absorbed so well that they do not cause gastrointestinal side effects in the vast majority of individuals. 

To quote an unknown author, “the most expensive supplement is the one that doesn’t work”.  When it comes to minerals, quality matters. If it’s the cheapest iron on the shelf of your drugstore or supermarket pharmacy, it’s because it is the cheapest source.  Don’t let those inferior products prevent you from regaining your health.  Take something recommended by your nutritionist, Naturopath or local health food store.

So, now you know why Popeye preferred canned spinach over iron pills to give him his strength, and why he didn’t complain of a sore, distended abdomen.

Read more about quality supplementation here.

Have you ever used an iron supplement? Did you get the desired effects?



By Andrea

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