The EclecticPhysician

The Eclectic Physician
Vitamin and Mineral Information


The information on this page compiled by
Beth Burch N.D.
(click on the keywords)


Iron is a vital part of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component in red blood cells. It is also part of myoglobin, a compound that helps muscle cells store oxygen. Iron also is a part of enzymes involved in energy production and DNA synthesis. Deficiency of iron results in iron deficiency anemia, increased menstrual bleeding, fatigue, decreased energy levels, impaired immune function, difficulty swallowing, inflammation of the tongue and cracked lips. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the US. Up to 50% of children under 2, young women and the elderly may be affected. Iron deficiency in pregnancy is even more common. Iron deficiency can occur due to inadequate intake, decreased absorption, increased requirement as in pregnancy or from blood loss. Deficiency of iron is best diagnosed by a blood ferritin level. Acute iron poisoning from overdose causes vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, shock and death. Iron overload results from iron storage in tissue and is characterized by liver cirrhosis, diabetes, congestive heart failure. Iron overload can occur in thalassemia, repeated transfusions, and excess intake with high iron stores.

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  • Ferrous sulfate or fumarate- inorganic iron, poorly absorbed and constipating
  • Ferrous succinate or gluconate- organic iron, better absorbed, non-constipating
  • Heme iron- from liver, well absorbed, non-constipating

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Food Sources

  • Brewer’s yeast, molasses, wheat bran & germ, liver, meat, fish and seeds are the best sources. Dried fruits, nuts, and leafy greens are good sources.

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  • Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
  • Infants-6-10 mg
  • Children (ages 1-10)- 10 mg
  • Men- 10-12 mg
  • Women- 10-15 mg
  • Pregnancy- 30 mg
  • Lactation- 15 mg

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Optimal Supplementation

  • RDA for age and sex

Treatment of Health Conditions

  • Ferrous sulfate-300 mg three times a day
  • Ferrous succinate or gluconate- 30-100 mg daily
  • Heme iron (from aqueous liver extract)- 4-6 mg daily

Conditions used for

  • Restless legs syndrome (1, 2)
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding (3, 4)
  • Iron deficiency

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Side effects

  • Nausea and stomach upset- take with food
  • Constipation- especially with ferrous sulfate
  • Contraindications
  • Hemochromatosis, hemosiderosis, polycythemia, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, peptic ulcer disease, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis
  • Iron should be used very cautiously in cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and infections as it can cause worsening of these conditions

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Interactions with other nutrients

  • Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin E can decrease iron absorption
  • Vitamin C increases iron absorption
  • Vitamin A helps the body use iron stored in the liver

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Interactions with medications and herbs

  • Antacids, cholestyramine, tetracyclines and pancreatic enzymes decrease iron absorption
  • Iron decreases absorption of tetracyclines, quinolones and penicillamine
  • Chloramphenicol delays response to iron therapy

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1. Sun ER et al, Iron and the restless legs syndrome, Sleep 1998;21(4):371-7
2. O'Keeffe ST et al, Iron status and restless legs syndrome in the elderly, Age Ageing 1994;23(3):200-3
3. Tymor ML, The etiological role of chronic iron deficiency in production of menorrhagia, JAMA 1964;187:323-27

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* The information presented in this web site is intended to inform and educate. It is not intended replace a qualified medical practitioner to diagnose or treat medical conditions.

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