Ask patients about their diets, how much iron supplementation daily they receive, and any medicines they may be taking that can impact iron absorption
Popeye had it right. Iron (found in spinach, leafy greens and other foods) is an important part of good health and is a mineral that helps your body make hemoglobin, a protein found in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the entire body. In addition, iron is important in the production of some hormones. How much iron supplementation daily for patients is important when considering low iron levels might make patients feel fatigued, have stomach upset, and cause problems concentrating.
Women who are menstruating could suffer from iron deficiency. But women and men of all ages can experience iron deficiency as well. You could lose iron through sweating or blood loss, and those eating a plant-based diet may experience iron deficiency. The body does not absorb non-heme iron from plants as well as it does animal-sourced heme iron. Meats, including poultry and fish, contain both types of iron.
How much iron is necessary, and how do people get it?
Iron needs can vary on your diet, your age and gender, and other physical factors. Typically, adult men between the ages of 19-50 years need 8 mg of iron daily, and women between the ages of 19-50 need more than double that amount at 18 mg of iron daily. Older adults 51 years or older need about 8 mg of iron daily.
Iron can be found in many plant foods as well as animal products:
- Meat, seafood, and fowl
- Nuts and dried beans
- Greens such as spinach and kale
- Breakfast cereals that are fortified with iron
- Iron-fortified breads
Your body will better absorb food-sourced iron if you pair plant sources with meat sources and well as foods that contain vitamin C (broccoli, fruits and berries, and tomatoes, for instance).
Testing for iron deficiency
Mild to moderate iron-deficiency anemia may have no signs or symptoms, so testing is important for patients suffering symptoms.
Ask patients about their diets, how much iron supplementation daily they receive, and any medicines they may be taking that can impact iron absorption. Physical exams symptoms to look for include skin, gums, and nail beds that are pale; rapid or irregular heartbeats; rapid or uneven breathing; and a blood test that includes a complete blood count.
How much iron supplementation daily
Patients are encouraged to take iron supplementation if they are iron deficient.
They can increase their iron intake with supplements made from ferrous or ferric sulfate, or ferric citrate. But be very careful with these supplements and warn patients to keep them away from children. Iron overdose is the cause of many poisoning deaths in children under the age of 6.
Iron supplements work best when taken before meals, but it can upset an empty stomach. A good compromise is to take the supplement with a glass of orange juice or some other source of vitamin C to help with the absorption of the iron.
Be aware of taking iron with milk, coffee or caffeinated tea, calcium or antacid. These will interfere with the absorption of the iron. Other foods to avoid eating with iron are high-fiber foods including grains or fibrous vegetables.
Is it possible for adults to take too much iron?
Iron is important for patient health, but taking high doses of iron supplements can cause digestive problems such as constipation, stomach pain or upset, vomiting, or diarrhea. It can also cause stomach ulcers or inflammation, and could block the body’s zinc absorption.
Very high doses might cause more serious problems including organ failure or coma.
Will patients feel better right away?
If your patients are anemic, it could take some time to feel the effects of iron supplementation, so tell them to be patient. They may need to continue supplementing their diet for several months, especially patients dealing with anemia.
“It usually takes 2-3 weeks of taking regular iron supplements before your symptoms start to improve,” write InterMountainHealthCare.org. “You may need to keep taking iron for several months to build up your iron reserves and keep your anemia from returning. Take your pills for as long as your doctor recommends, even if your symptoms have improved.”