Do male supplements actually work?
Iron: Quality not quantity is the question
What is behind the advertising claims for iron-containing food supplements?
Manufacturers of iron-containing food supplements refer to the intended use of the advertising statements approved at EU level, such as:
- "Iron contributes to the normal formation of red blood cells",
- "Iron makes a contribution to normal oxygen transport in the body",
- "Iron plays a role in normal energy metabolism",
- "Iron has a role in cell division",
- "Iron helps reduce tiredness and fatigue",
- "Iron contributes to normal cognitive function" or
- "Iron helps maintain normal immune system function".
With these statements, however, it is only about that normal Functions are maintained. It's not about improving performance or treating changes caused by illness. An improvement in body function is only achieved when there is a deficiency. Tired, exhausted, pale and unable to concentrate - this doesn't always have to be due to an iron deficiency. This can have various causes. In fact, iron deficiency is rather rare in Germany.
The National Consumption Study II has shown that 14% of men and 58% of women do not achieve the recommended daily intake for iron. But with iron it is not the amount that matters, but also the form in which it is present and the supply situation in which the body is currently. This decides how much iron he will take in. Falling below the recommended intake is not to be equated with a deficiency.
What should I look out for when using iron products?
If you notice stool darkening, stomach pain, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea after using an iron-containing dietary supplement, the cause may be excessive iron intake. These symptoms containing symptoms cannot be caused by foods naturally iron, but they can be caused by dietary supplements.
Based on the available findings, it cannot currently be ruled out that the uncontrolled and long-term use of iron-containing food supplements, among other things, increases the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. From the point of view of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, these findings must be taken seriously as long as no contrary results are available. Therefore, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends that Dietary supplements should not contain more than 6 mg of iron per day. In addition, iron-containing food supplements should carry a warning that men, postmenopausal women and pregnant women should only take iron after consulting their doctor.
- Iron-containing food supplements should not be used purely as a precaution, but only if a deficiency has been determined by a doctor.
- Combinations of plant-based and animal-based foods significantly increase iron absorption from them.
- A piece of fruit or a glass of orange juice during or immediately after the meal improves the iron absorption from the meal thanks to the vitamin C it contains.
- Coffee or black tea should not be consumed immediately after a meal. At least half an hour apart is advisable.
- Interactions with drugs are possible.
What does the body need iron for?
Iron has many roles in the body. The most important are: the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, the storage of oxygen in the muscles, the transfer of electrons in the energy metabolism. It is also part of various enzymes. Depending on the body weight, the body contains 2 to 4 g of iron. This is small in terms of quantity, which is why it is one of the trace elements. About 60% is found in the blood (hemoglobin), 25% is stored in the liver, spleen and bone marrow (ferritin and hemosiderin) and about 15% is bound to muscle protein (myoglobin) and enzymes.
The first symptoms of a deficiency are hair and nail fragility, dry skin, cracks in the corners of the mouth, and increased susceptibility to infection. Advanced iron deficiency can lead to anemia and impair physical performance. Fatigue, general weakness and disturbances in body temperature regulation are the result. It takes a certain amount of time before an iron deficiency occurs because the body can make use of its more or less full iron stores.
The recommendation for teenagers and women is 15 mg per day. Only 10 mg daily is recommended for the post-menopausal period. This corresponds to the recommendation for all men aged 19 and over. Boys from the age of 12, on the other hand, have an increased need during the growth phase. It is 12 mg iron per day.
Growth, pregnancy, blood loss (e.g. menstruation, prolonged bleeding from ulcers or chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract) and a vegetarian lifestyle are risk factors for an iron deficiency.
As a result, the trace element is often lacking in women with heavy bleeding and growing young women. A deficiency in the male population, on the other hand, is rare. This is where it is most likely to occur in senior males due to chronic inflammation or cancer. Otherwise, the iron supply in Germany is considered good. According to the National Consumption Study II of 2008, the mean value of iron intake is 14.4 mg / day for men and 11.8 mg / day for women.
Can I cover my daily requirement with food?
The amount of iron absorbed by the body differs depending on the food. Iron from animal foods (heme iron, bivalent iron) is absorbed to more than 20%. In contrast, the intake from plant foods (non-heme iron, trivalent iron) is hardly more than 5%. The rest will be eliminated. Iron from animal foods therefore has a so-called "better bioavailability". According to WHO information, the absorption of iron from a mixed diet is between 10-15%.
The absorption of iron is inhibited by certain substances in cereals, whole grain rice, corn, legumes and soy products. On the other hand, these foods are also rich in iron. By cleverly combining these foods with products that promote iron absorption, such as meat, fish, poultry and vitamin C, the iron absorption from the diet can be increased ten-fold. This means that the combination of foods is more important than the level of iron in individual foods. For this reason, it is difficult to give concrete intake recommendations.
The absorption of iron in the body is also inhibited by tea and coffee, as well as the calcium from milk, so the recommendation is not to drink these drinks directly after meals.
Because iron from meat is particularly readily available for the human body, vegetarian and vegan eaters should ensure that they consume foods containing vitamin C and / or citric or lactic acid in their plant-based foods. These acids increase the absorption of iron from other foods and are found in fruits and raw vegetables.
Good to know:
When the iron stores are almost empty, the intake increases by 2 to 3 times. This also seems to be the reason why vegetarians with a balanced food selection are not affected by an iron deficiency more often than the population average, according to previous studies.
But the method of preparation can also increase the absorption of vegetable iron. The inhibiting substances (phytates) are reduced by soaking or sprouting cereals and legumes. The acidification also increases the intake, which is why, for example, sourdough bread and lactic acidic vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi or pickled cucumbers / carrots / peppers are recommended.
During pregnancy, double the amount (30 mg) of iron is needed, which, especially in vegetarian women, cannot always be achieved through diet. After consulting a doctor, it may make sense in this situation to take additional iron in the form of tablets.
These mineral compounds are in accordance with EU Directive 2002/46 / EG, Annex II (version of 09.03.2021) for iron in Germany and other EU countries in food supplements authorized:
- Iron carbonate
- Iron citrate
- Iron ammonium citrate
- Iron gluconate
- Iron fumarate
- Iron sodium diphosphate
- Iron lactate
- Iron sulfate
- Iron diphosphate (iron pyrophosphate)
- Iron saccharate
- Elemental iron (carbonyl + electrolytic + hydrogen-reduced)
- Iron bisglycinate
- Iron L-pidolate
- Iron phosphate
- Iron (II) ammonium phosphate *
- Iron (III) sodium EDTA *
* approved as novel ingredients
BfR (2021): Updated maximum quantity proposals for vitamins and minerals in food supplements and fortified foods
Opinion No. 009/2021 of March 15, 2021
BfR (2021): Maximum amount proposals for iron in food including food supplements
Onkopedia, Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anemia, as of December 2018
Association for Nutritional Therapy and Prevention, The trace element iron, as of January 6th, 2021
German Nutrition Society, D-A-CH reference values for nutrient intake, 2nd edition, 6th updated edition 2020.
Nutrition of healthy infants, recommendations of the nutrition commission of the German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine. Monthly Pediatrics 6/2014
Thieme Nutritional Medicine (4th edition 2010), Hans Konrad Biesalski, Stephan C. Bischoff, Christoph Puchstein
Thieme Nutrition Checklist (2002), Paolo M. Suter
Human nutrition (1990), Ibrahim Elmadfa, Claus Leitzmann, Verlag Eugen Ulmer Stuttgart
BFR, Eisen, accessed on January 27, 2021
BFR, Use of Iron in Dietary Supplements and for Food Fortification, Opinion from 2009, amended 2013, accessed on January 27, 2021
BfR, Questions and Answers on Iron in Food, 2008, accessed on January 27, 2021
Max Rubner Institute, Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food 2008, National Consumption Study II, Part 2, accessed on January 27, 2021
This content was created as part of the online offer www.klartext-nahrungsergänzung.de.
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