The importance of absorption and iron supplements

In terms of iron needs, men and women have different requirements. For men, it’s around 8.7mg of iron per day while for pre-menopausal women this increases to 14.8 mg per day. The difference in requirements being due to menstruation and pregnancy.

1. Women lose iron during menstruation

Iron is a crucial component of the haemoglobin in our blood, and without it our bodies’ abilities to circulate oxygen would be severely diminished. As up to 96% of our blood is comprised of haemoglobin, this naturally means that women will lose a lot of that iron during menstruation. This also explains why post-menopausal women need only the same amount of iron as men to stay healthy.

2. Pregnancy will mean you need more iron

Iron is a vital mineral during pregnancy, with the developing baby solely depending on its mother's supplies. The mother’s intake also ensures that the baby’s is born with adequate iron stores for the first six months of life. Pregnant women should be getting from 18 to 27mg of iron per day. Some pregnant women are not able to get all the iron they need from their diet and often their doctor or midwife recommends an iron supplement

The HSE recommends that you try to eat iron-rich foods 2 to 3 times a week. Red meat such as beef, lamb and pork are good sources of iron. If you do not eat meat, aim to include plenty of non-meat sources of iron in your diet, such as:

  • eggs
  • pulses - beans, peas and lentils
  • green vegetables - spinach and broccoli
  • breakfast cereals with added iron
  • dried fruit - prunes and apricots

Why absorption is so important

One of the most common side effects of taking certain iron supplements is that it can lead to upset stomach, cramps and constipation. The reason for this is that how much iron we absorb is controlled by the digestive tract, and in some cases high-strength iron supplements overload the digestive tract with unabsorbed iron. Despite a need for iron, at times our bodies find it hard to absorb iron even though it’s needed to stay healthy.

To ensure proper absorption – you should combine foods containing iron with foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwis, peppers and berries. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb and use the iron in your diet. Avoid tea or coffee around the time you are eating iron-rich foods. They reduce your body's ability to absorb iron due to containing polyphenols. It’s okay to continue to drink tea or coffee but you should try and avoid consuming these during mealtimes.  Likewise, calcium-rich foods such as milk and cheese/dairy products have been found to hinder iron absorption 

Spatone® Apple is a naturally occurring, iron-rich water with added vitamin C which is easily absorbed and gentle on the stomach.  Packed in a convenient format, Spatone® has higher absorption which means less unabsorbed iron enters into the intestinal tract which cause fewer unpleasant side effects often experienced by those taking iron supplements such as constipation and stomach irritation. The bioavailability (the proportion which enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect) of the iron in Spatone® is around 40%, which means that there is enough in a single sachet to get our dietary iron requirements.