Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ask the Expert: I heard that women shouldn’t get too much iron

Q. I heard that women shouldn’t get too much iron or it can screw up their system. What happens?

A. If one is diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia or does not eat enough iron-containing foods, an iron supplement or a multivitamin that contains iron may be essential. However, too much iron is not good for anyone, male or female. Iron can be irritating and destructive to the gastrointestinal tract, especially if too much is taken at once and the body’s ability to remove the free radicals iron generates is overwhelmed. Everyone absorbs iron differently for several reasons. The amount of iron absorbed is dependent on the presence or absence of other nutrients such as vitamin E, phosphorus, copper, and several amino acids. Alcoholics may absorb more iron from their food since alcoholism can cause liver disease which can reduce the metabolism of iron. People who regularly drink alcohol with their meals also may have higher iron levels since alcohol increases the absorption of iron. Drinking orange juice with meals may also increase the amount of iron absorbed. Iron toxicity is very serious and can result in diarrhea, low body temperature, shock, serious damage to vital organs, and death. In fact, since iron tablets can resemble candy and are found in many homes, iron overdose is the most frequent cause of childhood drug poisoning. For adults, iron consumption of greater than 20mg per kilogram body weight will lead to signs of iron toxicity. If more than 60mg per kilogram of iron is taken, it may prove fatal. Before starting an iron supplement, one should always consult his or her physician. If one is taking a multivitamin that contains iron, it is best to inform one’s physician of this fact. Most multivitamins that have iron contain relatively low doses, but since everyone absorbs iron differently, it makes sense to let one’s doctor know.

Q. When should I take my calcium supplements and how many MG at once?

A. Men and pre-menopausal women should ingest 1000mg of dietary calcium a day. Post-menopausal women should have 1500mg of calcium a day and they should be sure to do some form of weight-bearing exercise regularly as well. If a post-menopausal woman is at risk for osteoporosis, she should consult her doctor about the use of hormone supplementation to complement her calcium and exercise regimen. No matter how many total milligrams of calcium you are taking, it is a good idea to divide up the dose and take it along with two or three meals daily. Dividing the doses can alleviate any accompanying constipation and taking the supplement with meals ensures maximum absorption and utilization by the body. For example, if a post-menopausal woman needed to take 1500mg of calcium a day, she could take 500mg with each of her three daily meals.

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