Do you feel tired or do you keep picking up bugs (the cold and flu sort)? Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in Western societies and its consequences include lack of energy and reduced immunity.
In the late 70s researchers looking for a way to increase iron uptake came up with the, some might say, bizarre idea of fortifying sugar with iron. They were surprised to find that when this fortified sugar was added to coffee very little of it was absorbed into the body.
Other studies showed that a single cup of tea or coffee can reduce the iron absorption from a meal by as much as 75%, depending on the strength of caffeine in the drink. This is the case too if the caffeine is drunk within the hour after eating. Tea and coffee (and caffeinated soft drinks) also reduce the effectiveness of iron supplements, in fact some studies have shown that in some people anaemia is impossible to correct until caffeine is stopped.
Iron deficiency eventually leads to anaemia (low blood count), but this can take many months and up to 3 years to happen; it’s a progressive thing.
Women, before menopause, are at a higher risk of anaemia due to regular blood loss.
Bearing in mind anaemia is a relatively late sign of iron deficiency a blood count done by your doctor (known as a full blood count) may not pick the problem up. If you think you’ve got symptoms suggesting iron deficiency and want it checked out you need another test in addition to the blood count. The other test measures what’s known as the ferritin level. This is a better indication of your iron levels.
Iron isn’t the easiest thing to absorb from our food anyway but there are 2 easy things you can do to help:
- Don’t drink caffeine with meals or an hour afterwards
- Vitamin C increases iron absorption and you can get this from orange juice or the salad or steamed veggies with your meal.
Even if your diet is packed with iron and you are taking supplements you could be inadvertently sabotaging your healthy choices by drinking caffeine with, or close to, meals. This one little change can make a BIG difference.
If you’re interested in more about caffeine take a look at Caffeine Addiction blog.
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Comments and questions welcomed
Uber Health to you, Dr Julie