Iron supplements

Six million prescriptions for iron supplements are issued each year in Britain. You can be low in iron for a number of reasons, but it is most common in women, either because of heavy periods, fibroids or during pregnancy. The next most likely cause would be loss of blood, either following injury or surgery, or occult bleeding somewhere in the gut.

In any case, symptoms of iron deficiency can include tiredness, dizziness, low blood pressure and a fast heartbeat, and other less obvious things. Any routine blood test will check your iron level, which is partly why it is detected so often. And taking an iron supplement will bring up the level within a few weeks, if it is properly absorbed. But it’s not always the best solution.

Some iron supplements – containing ferric citrate and ferric EDTA - have been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Ferrous sulphate, which is also commonly prescribed, does not carry this risk, but most supplements tend to cause constipation, which means that laxatives are also taken. Aside from medicalising what is a fairly normal condition for women, this can lead to disturbance of the gut biome, and a general loss of wellbeing. We also know that these iron supplements are not very well absorbed, so there is quite a high level of ‘wastage’ involved.

Unless your levels are seriously low, it’s far better to boost your intake of iron-rich foods, such as apricots, blackcurrants and dark green vegetables, and organ meat (particularly liver) if you are not vegetarian. And consider a supplement like Floradix, which delivers the iron in a food-like matrix (iron-fed yeast and berry concentrates). It’s well absorbed and doesn’t slow your bowel down. Meanwhile, try to address the causes of your iron deficiency. There may be dietary or lifestyle factors involved, and sorting these out could really improve your general health as well.