Iron for adults over 50
Many people fear iron excess. This fear may be one reason why, even in wealthy countries, iron is the most common nutrient deficiency. For example, 8-44% of seniors are anemic, and contrary to many assumptions, men in this group are most likely to be deficient. And it is true, that like most other nutrients, iron is not good for us in excess. However, it is also not good for us to be deficient. This is why I refer to iron as a Goldilocks mineral. It has to be “just right”.
Adults over 50 are often told to just stay away from iron to avoid problems. Sometimes the danger is inferred – we think there must be a reason they don’t include it in the multis for seniors – it must not be required! And sometimes, it is stated that you simply don’t need it. But this simplifies the topic in a way that leaves many people low in iron. Blood tests ranges vary, yet many people who are considered adequate in iron are far from optimal, and it affects their cognition, energy, strength, and stamina.
All of us deserve to make an educated decision about the topic, since so many people are deficient or even anemic. Many of us who have accepted some so-called ‘signs of aging’ may simply be iron deficient! Memory issues, weakness, difficulty concentrating, feeling sensitive to cold and difficulty exercising or going up stairs are all common signs of low iron. So are dry skin, cold hands and feet, weak or thinning hair and easy bruising.
It seems a shame to put up with symptoms like that when, as long as you don’t have an iron accumulation condition, it is safe for older adults to take Flora Iron+, available in both liquid and capsules, or Ferritin+ (coming soon to Canada!) to cover their daily iron needs. Unless you are one of these folks who tends to be high in iron, you may be in the very bottom of the healthy range, and trying a low-dose iron supplement for a month might be life changing.
It is true that iron is harmful in high amounts. Likely if a person has a level of stored iron (ferritin) over 600, it will get flagged, as it could indicate excess. But, I have yet to speak to anyone who was flagged in this way for high levels who did not have a blood storage disorder like hemochromatosis. Because too much iron can cause health issues to arise, absorption of iron is tightly controlled by the body, and it is simply hard to be high unintentionally.
For the most part, iron has a tough time getting absorbed. This means leaving the digestive tract and entering the bloodstream. This difficulty acts as a safety mechanism that minimizes the potentially harmful effects of excess iron. But it also makes iron notoriously hard to get enough of. Seniors are more likely to be low in iron, and this is partly due to digestion and absorption issues.
One of the reasons it starts to become harder to get enough iron as we age, is that this all relies on the health and efficiency of our digestive tracts, starting with our teeth and including adequate levels of stomach acid. Sometimes we become low in minerals like iron or calcium as we age because our stomach acid is too weak to separate them from the foods we eat. When we have a higher level of acidity in the stomach and robust digestive enzyme production, we will break iron compounds down more effectively.
Having a digestive tract in good condition and without any functional issues or inflammatory illnesses is required for best absorption of nutrients like iron. Some people support their digestion with probiotics or enzymes, or use digestion-supportive drinks with apple cider vinegar to create a more acidic digestive environment. Some doctors recommend this and a higher vitamin C intake to achieve better iron status. Chewing well is also important.
If you think you may be low in iron, space iron away from supplements, medications and competing minerals like calcium by at least a couple of hours. If you take a lot of supplements, consider Ferritin+ (coming soon to Canada!) as your iron solution, as it is not affected by competition. It is also the best choice for those with inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, since Ferritin+ is released only in the bloodstream, not the gut.
About the Author: Dana Remedios
Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth, and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.