Some U.S. Elderly Take Unnecessary Iron Supplements
Feb. 26, 2001 -- Quite a few elderly people are taking unneeded
and possibly harmful iron supplements, according to a study published in the
March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Researchers looked at data on about 1,000 elderly Americans
from the Framingham Heart Study. "We found 16% were taking supplements
containing iron, and their average consumption was about 30 mg per day, above
and beyond what they got in their diet," senior author Richard J. Wood,
PhD, tells WebMD. "Recommended intake in this age group would be 10 mg [per
day]." Wood is chief of the mineral bioavailability laboratory at the USDA
human nutrition research center on aging at Tufts University in Boston.
People take iron because they want to prevent anemia. In the
group that was studied, 3% of people had too little iron, while about 13% had
too much. "Our findings suggest that the use of unprescribed iron
supplements in free-living, elderly white Americans is probably unnecessary and
could be detrimental," the authors write.
Although experts don't know for sure whether excess iron in the
body is harmful to the elderly, some studies suggest that people with elevated
iron stores may be at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
However, these theories are highly controversial, and further research is
Until more is known, people should check their vitamin and
mineral supplements and make sure they're not taking more iron than the
recommended daily amount, says Corinne Adler, RD. "There's a whole
mentality that says, 'If a little is good, more must be better.' Unfortunately,
that isn't true," says Adler, who is a nutritionist in private practice in
"Iron is not one of the nutrients an elderly population
should go overboard with," says Joel S. Edman, DSc, FACN. "Because of
concerns that some people may be taking unnecessary iron, many multivitamins
are now made in two forms, either with or without iron." Edman is staff
nutritionist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson
University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Keep in mind that iron needs vary dramatically at different
stages of life. "Iron deficiency is much more common among children and
women of childbearing age," says Elias Schwartz, MD. "In fact, the
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that baby formula should be
supplemented with iron. Once a child is on a solid diet, after the age of about
2, they probably get enough iron in the food they eat." Schwartz is
professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson
University in Philadelphia, and professor emeritus of pediatrics at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Women of childbearing age are at special risk for iron
deficiency because they lose iron regularly during their monthly periods. They
often do need iron supplements. Most obstetricians also recommend iron
supplements because women lose a substantial amount of iron during