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About Iron deficiency

16/10/2021 09:31
Bence Gal Szabo


Iron has a strong oxidative, destructive impact in our body for all cells, so it is important to keep our free iron level as low as possible. At the same time, iron plays an indispensable role in numerous body functions, so its lack is also a problem.

For most pathogens, too, iron is an important nutrient, so iron supplementation and the high iron level in itself boost the proliferation of pathogens, and so it makes any chronic or acute infection even more severe. That is why in ideal case our cells store iron bound to ferritin, especially in case of infection, because for most pathogens iron is inaccessible when bound to ferritin. This is the main strategy of the body to deprive pathogens of iron, and so to protect itself against infections. Ferritin plays an important role also in the transportation of iron, as well as in regulating our free iron level. If a part of our body needs more iron (e.g. for the immune cells to produce peroxide, which it use against harmful cells/pathogens), then ferritin transports the iron there, whereas in turn, if the iron level in our blood gets too high, then ferritin stores the surplus, thus reducing it to the ideally low level.

Iron supplementation and frequent consumption of food rich in iron is also a problem because it has an adverse impact on intestinal flora and on the intestinal system in general. So the first step, where iron can do harm, is our digestive system. From there - reaching the bloodstream - it gets to all of our cells, and in the course of its oxidation causes harm to blood ingredients and the cells by producing harmful substances. It also boosts the number of pathogens (mainly those inside the cell, but also those outside of it). On the other hand, if our ferritin level is sufficient, and the iron intake is not too high, either, then these harmful impacts cease or at least reduces. Ferritin, on the other hand, does not eliminate the harmful impact on the intestinal system, and so it is still important to keep our iron intake low (in the presence of sufficient ferritin, little iron is sufficient, because it boosts its absorption and transportation to the right location).

During pregnancy, it is especially important to keep our iron level low, whereas at the same time our iron reserves are at an optimal level, as well. So settling the iron level is better, if not done through iron supplementation, because the latter is harmful to the foetus, as well. In research conducted in Italy in 2014, nearly 300 pregnant women with iron deficiency or anaemia were divided into two groups. 156 mothers in one group received 2 x 100mg lactoferrin per day, whereas the remaining 139 mothers were given daily 560 mg sulfate supplement. In the group taking lactoferrin (a group with no iron) all test results on iron (haemoglobin, iron, ferritin, etc.) significantly improved, i.e. iron deficiency anaemia were completely eliminated, whereas the same values in the other group taking iron did not improve, but further deteriorated instead. In the group of mothers taking lactoferrin only, no side effects were observed, and their values indicating body-wide inflammation also improved, whereas, in the group of mothers with iron deficiency taking iron, the inflammation level further deteriorated, moreover, iron supplementation caused detectable side effects to more than 16 per cent of them. Most surprising during the project, however, was that in the case of mothers not taking iron, only lactoferrin no abortion occurred, and all babies were born healthy, whereas in the group of mothers taking iron 5 abortions occurred, which is 4 per cent of all cases!

So, if possible, iron should never be supplemented. Of course, if we have iron deficiency, then it is important to optimize the iron level of our body, but it is seldom feasible with iron supplementation only. In case of pregnancy, intestinal problems, chronic or acute inflammation it is particularly worth optimizing our iron level without iron supplementation.

So what should we do against an iron deficiency?

We should definitely have also our ferritin level measured. In the ideal case, during pregnancy, it should be kept between 50 and 75 ng/ml (according to other opinions: between 20 and 75 ng/ml). Ferritin level increases in case of acute/chronic inflammations, infections and often in case of obesity/metabolic syndrome, however, low ferritin level always means low iron status, and/or that only a small part of the iron present in our body is in its ideal “storage location”, - in ferritin, which means that in cases like this, the high or normal iron level is extremely harmful. Ideally, our iron level is low-medium, whereas ferritin, transferrin and haemoglobin levels are normal.

Although keeping ferritin level low may have its advantages in extending life expectancy (at approximately 20 ng/ml), still it worth aiming at values around 50 ng/ml (between 50 and 75), especially in case of pregnancy. If we are in this value range, then our iron level doesn’t matter, it’s ok, even good if it is low. In most cases, lactoferrin quickly increases our iron level, as it was demonstrated in the test referred to above, and reduces harmful effects of iron (deprives pathogens of iron, helps to transport the iron to the healthy cells, increases iron intake by the cells, whereas helps to store the surplus iron in form of ferritin).

Vitamin C also helps in increasing the ferritin level. On the other hand, coffee, chocolate, tea, seeds, legumes, whole-grain products, and food products containing other phytic acids and catechins reduce both iron and ferritin levels.

So we have to deal with an iron deficiency if our ferritin level is low (below 50 ng/ml). In this case, first, we should try and settle our ferritin level by taking lactoferrin and vitamin C, and by avoiding agents reducing iron/ferritin level. As a daily minimum, 2 x 100mg lactoferrin (it can safely be more, even 2x30mg) + daily minimum 2000mg vitamin C (it can even be 10 thousand mg, but for the sake of proper absorption it is important not to take more than 1000mg at a time), and/or reduction of consuming tea/coffee/legumes/seeds/wholegrain “brown things”.

If this does not settle our ferritin level (and our iron status with it), then it is the best to start eating more liver (e.g. 3 times a week) and/or more red meat or other food (preferably of animal origin) with iron content in addition to the intervention recommended above (it is recommended to take vitamin C together with food containing iron, especially if the source of the iron is of plant origin) This should work, but if somebody is not willing to eat liver more often, and his/ferritin does not go up to 50bg/ml, i.e. as a last resort, iron supplementation with medication or dietary supplements can be considered (especially, if the ferritin level is below even 30ng/ml).

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