What factors could be making your iron deficient?

Are you feeling an energy slump at 3pm, maybe you struggle to get out of bed in the morning or have brain fog? Perhaps you’ve noticed a drop in your performance at the gym or a slump in energy that lasts all day?

If so, you might be dealing with a common culprit: iron deficiency.

In this blog, we discuss five often overlooked factors that can contribute to your iron deficiency.

When to correctly take an iron supplement

Our bodies are constantly adapting and adjusting iron to meet our needs. Our body naturally tries to block the absorption of iron when there is too much, or when deficient, it tries to encourage more transport of iron in times of need. Hepcidin is responsible for this, which is produced in the liver and controls the distribution and absorption in response to the body’s needs.

Hepcidin is lowest in the morning when we wake up, usually after a period of fasting overnight and slowly increases during the day. When hepcidin starts to rise throughout the day, it blocks the absorption of iron. So, if you take your iron supplement during the day, your body cannot absorb it. It’s best to take first thing in the morning, or right before sleep, as hepcidin decreases.

Do you like drinking coffee or tea in the morning? Well, they both block the absorption of iron to approximately 90%. This is due to the tannin content which gives coffee and tea its bitter taste. If you love your coffee in the morning and are struggling with iron deficiency, I recommend having your supplement 2 hours before or after your coffee to optimise absorption.

All iron supplements contain non-heme iron

There are two forms of iron that the body can store: one is heme-iron which comes from animal products and the other is non-heme which comes from plant-based foods. Research shows that non-heme iron sources have a bioavailability of 15% to 35%, this is due to certain compounds in plant-based foods, such as phytates and polyphenols that inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron in the body.

  • One of the best ways to enhance iron absorption of non-heme supplements is to pair it with a heme-iron source. If my client is not vegan or plant based, I recommend using a beef liver supplement or increasing consumption of animal meats in combination with an iron supplement, as research shows that animal meats have an enhancing effect of iron on plant-based sources.

    Vitamin C is also great in combination with an iron supplement (especially in vegans) as it forms a compound inside the gut, making it easier for your intestines to absorb it.

You lose iron from your sweat

Did you know that we lose a lot of iron via our sweat? Especially during a workout. The amount of iron lost through sweat is estimated at 1-2mg in a 2hr workout.

This might seem like a small amount, but when we take into consideration other factors that increase sweating, for example when we are stressed, anxious or when it’s hot outside … it all adds up!

  • Athletes or people working out vigorously (e.g. CrossFit 5 x per week) will lose a lot of iron from their sweat, so their iron needs are much higher than the average person who works out 3 x per week. That is why they are commonly found to be iron deficient more than others.

Taking your iron after a morning workout

Research shows that after a period of exercise, taking your iron within 3 hours of your workout is best for iron absorption, and after that 3-hour window, your hepcidin significantly increases.

So, let’s say you head over to the gym at 5:00am and do a workout, there is a 3-hour window after that workout to take your iron supplement. After that 3-hour window, your hepcidin significantly increases and will block your iron absorption.

You’re taking an iron supplement everyday

Back in the day, medical professionals used to recommend taking an iron supplement every day to increase your iron stores. Now the cat is out of the bag, and research shows that taking iron every 2nd day is optimal.

This means that you should take your iron supplement on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and so forth.

This is because iron supplementation causes an acute increase in hepcidin over a 24-hour period and taking a break in between will help you to optimize your iron storage better.