I've been getting a lot of questions about iron lately. So I decided to address the question, “What interferes with Iron Absorption?” (post may contain affiliate links)

Antacids and Ulcer Medications

The main reason these medications interfere with iron absorption is because they raise the pH of the stomach. The lower the number on the pH scale, the higher the acid content of your stomach. Your stomach contains hydrochloric acid, which aids the digestion process. Raising the pH of your stomach will impede the absorption of many nutrients, including iron.

This is why you and your doctor have to weigh the benefits and risks of taking or not taking antacids. It's good to be aware of this issue, however, so you can work towards making sure you are eating plenty of iron-rich foods.

Cholesterol Lowering Medications

Certain cholesterol lower medications, called bile sequestrants, interfere with iron absorption. Examples of this class include cholestyramine and colestipol.

Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is an antioxidant compound found in the bran of grain and in seeds. It is the main storage form of phosphorus (an essential mineral) in plants. Phytic acid is a strong chelator of calcium, zinc, and iron.  Chelators are what are used to remove excess iron when a person has too much iron in their blood. Thus, the reason phytic acid decreases absorption of iron. Again, this is a good thing to be aware of. However, this does not mean you should avoid foods high in phytic acid, because foods high in phytic acid are usually high in other important nutrients as well. Examples of high phytic acid foods are spinach and other greens, soybeans, whole grains, seeds, and dark chocolate.

Mega Doses of Vitamins and Minerals Interfere with Iron Absorption

Taking excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals interferes with iron absorption, and other nutrients as well. When studies show certain nutrients to be protective against disease, people often think they should take a supplement. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. And their goal is to convince people they “need” a certain supplement in order to be healthy.

The problems with this are multiple. First, of all, when studies are done, the scientists don't always know whether it is the nutrient ONLY or whether there is something else in the food studied that is contributing to the apparent protective effect of the vitamin. Not only that, but antioxidants, such as vitamin A and vitamin C, can become pro-oxidants when taken at too high of doses. When a vitamin becomes pro-oxidative, this makes it harmful to the body.

Also, taking excess amounts of vitamins will interfere with the absorption of other essential nutrients including iron, zinc, copper, and others.

This is why it is ideal for you to get your nutrients from the food itself.

Now that we've discussed what interferes with iron absorption, let's discuss how to increase iron absorption.

How to Increase Iron Absorption

  1. Heme iron sources

    What Interferes with Iron Absorption?

    Bobotie with tomato sauce

  2. Add vitamin C
    • Combination foods such as
      • Chili, spaghetti and meat sauce
      • Tacos with salsa
      • Bazeen-barley dough with tomato sauce (Libya)
      • Bobotie with tomato sauce (South Africa)
      • Tomato chutney served with meat or whole grain/enriched bread
      • Scrambled eggs with sautéed tomatoes (Chinese)
      • Tomato curry with fish (India),
      • Chicken with tomato sauce (Malaysia)
      • Drink Orange juice or tomato juice with high iron foods

Other articles to read:

To Review the difference between heme and non-heme iron, click here.

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