Do you feel tired all the time? If so, you may wonder if you are iron deficient. You may try to take iron supplements or go to the doctor for testing.
If you go to the doctor, they will probably use a blood test to check the ferritin levels in your body. Ferritin, a protein in iron, is often thought to be the best way to check for low iron or anemia.
But what if the iron is already in your cells, not in your blood? Are you really lacking iron in your body, or is the iron simply not working properly?
Let’s look at the purpose of iron and how it works in the body, so we can use this knowledge to make wise decisions about our iron consumption.
Iron’s Purpose & Movement in the Body
We cannot survive without oxygen circulating through our bodies. Iron's one responsibility is to carry oxygen in the body. Think of it as a waiter with a silver tray gracefully carrying the oxygen where it needs to go throughout the body.
The oxygen is carried on the iron through the body on red blood cells. You can think of the red blood cells as a moving sidewalk as you see in airports.
Once a red blood cell is not working anymore, the iron is able to keep circulating through the body by jumping on another red blood cell.
So, the waiters (iron) are riding on moving sidewalks (red blood cells) while carrying a tray (with oxygen on it). When one moving sidewalk (red blood cell) stops working, the waiter (iron) steps onto another moving sidewalk (red blood cell).
For this reason, we can say that the body has its own recycling system in regard to iron! The iron doesn’t stop working when the red blood cell does. It is just carried through the body on another red blood cell.
What this Iron Recycling System Means for You
According to Dr. Morley Robbins, “95% of our daily iron requirement comes from our ‘Iron Recycling System’.” In fact, “no more than 5% (~1mg) is meant to come through our diet.”
You don’t need to work to get one milligram of iron in your diet. It is just the opposite. Iron fortified foods provide iron, in unnatural forms in bread, baked goods, crackers, etc. This causes those eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) to get much MORE iron than they need on a daily basis.
Eating a diet of mainly real foods can help keep your iron in check, but even 1-2 servings of fortified bread can give you more than you need in an entire day!
Why Are Your Levels Low?
In order for iron to function in the body, it is necessary to have other minerals. Copper, active vitamin A (retinol), magnesium, and vitamin C are important vitamins and minerals your body needs to have this iron recycling system function properly.
Without these nutrients, the iron in your body will not function properly. You will have symptoms and blood work that suggest iron deficiency even with a lot of iron in your system. Yes, you read that right. Your lab work might look like your iron is low when, in reality, you have plenty of iron but are lacking the other nutrients that your body needs to use it appropriately.
One of the most important minerals for iron to work properly is copper. According to Robbins, “(bioavailable) copper regulates iron, keeps it mobilized and ensures that the 95% iron (recycling) requirement is met – each and every day!”
Without the proper balance of other minerals, supplementation with iron may briefly increase your ferritin levels, but ferritin will not be maintained even as iron builds up in your system.
You may be thinking that taking more iron can’t hurt and sounds easier than balancing all your minerals. But when iron builds up in your system unnecessarily, it can actually lead to iron overload.
Robbins believes that “every conceivable condition that people have ever heard of is produced by iron-induced oxidative stress.”
He explains that there is an association with liver toxicity and the following issues.
- Low energy
- Bacteria, fungus, virus, and parasites thriving
- Estrogen dominance
- PMS symptoms
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Heart disease
- Histamine Intolerance
What Would Dr. Robbins Suggest for those with “Low Iron?”
Increasing the minerals that are necessary for iron to function properly in your body will begin to resolve both the symptoms of “low iron” and that of iron toxicity.
Ideally, you would get your minerals from real foods. Natural sources tend to have more balanced minerals than taking supplements with one specific mineral.
However, our current farming practices make getting our minerals extremely difficult. Our soil is depleted so even organic produce doesn’t have the minerals it once did. For this reason, it may be necessary to add good-quality supplements.
Food-Based Sources of Minerals
- Copper - crustaceans, white fish, oysters, shrimp, bee pollen, or liver. (Avoid high fructose corn syrup and GMO’s.)
- Active Vitamin A (Retinal) - liver, full-fat dairy, egg yolks, cod liver oil, etc.
- Magnesium - Magnesium helps prevent the oxidative stress iron causes. It can be hard to get enough Magnesium in the diet, and this is one place where supplementation can really help.
- Riboflavin (b12) - Beef liver, full-fat dairy, clams, eggs, etc.
- Vitamin C - citrus fruit, green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi, etc.
- Bee pollen is a wonderful source of many vitamins, but start slowly to check for an allergic reaction.
All of these minerals are known to increase the functionality of iron metabolism. But you can also lower your iron through consuming apple cider vinegar (1T a day) or even donating blood (menstruating women 2x’s/year, men 4x’s/year).
A Special Note for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
We know that inflammation is a leading root cause of PCOS. But why is there inflammation in the first place? Could this be caused by iron toxicity?
According to Robbin, yes! Inflammation is strongly correlated to iron toxicity. He also notes that “when you start to get into the literature, then you start to realize that PCOS is caused by oxidative stress and just by iron.
Iron is a very common element on our planet, so it is very difficult to become iron deficient. Before you supplement with iron be sure to at least look into your copper and vitamin A levels.
P.S. To learn more about Dr. Robbins recommendations go to GotMag.org or check out his message on this podcast. (Transcript: #162 Rethinking Iron Supplementation with Morley Robbins - Myersdetox.com)
What about magnesium
- ost recently, a breakthrough study published at the end of 2012 reported that Magnesium binding sites have been detected on 3,751 human proteins. This finding proves that Magnesium’s role in maintaining health and preventing disease is far greater than previously thought. (1)
- Yet, despite its metabolic and regulatory importance, at least 80 percent of all Americans unknowingly suffer from chronic Magnesium deficiency. (And that’s a conservative estimate, in my opinion!)