Iron is an essential heavy metal that we all need to support cognitive function, produce red blood cells, and maintain general good health.
However, it’s not present in all multivitamins.
If you’re wondering why, and whether you need a multivitamin with or without iron, this article is for you.
Clearly, manufacturers aren’t leaving it out for no reason.
If you have too much iron, which is a risk if it’s taken in supplement form, there can be severe health consequences.
Read on to find out:
- Why we need iron
- Why most multivitamins don’t contain iron
- When should you buy multivitamins with iron
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Why Do We Need Iron?
Iron is an essential heavy metal that almost all living organisms need. It helps with metabolic processes such as oxygen transport and DNA synthesis.
However, there’s a delicate balance.
Too much iron and the consequences can be severe, too.
Luckily, most people can get an adequate amount of iron from their diets. Eating a diet that contains a regular amount of iron-rich foods will ensure you never have too little or too much.
So, Why Don’t Most Multivitamins Contain Iron?
1. Low Percentage of People in Developed Countries Have a Deficiency
In most developed countries, a relatively low percentage of the population have an iron deficiency. Only 3.4% of children in North America have anemia.
Because the majority of people, including kids, have adequate amounts of iron in their diet, it doesn’t make sense to also include it in multivitamins.
2. Many Dietary Sources of Iron
Iron is naturally prevalent in lots of food.
It’s present in two forms:
- Heme: This is only found in animal flesh, in foods like red meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Non-heme: This type of iron is found in plant foods, and in animal foods, if the animals ate foods containing non-heme iron
Heme iron is absorbed more easily by the body than non-heme iron is, but we can improve the absorption of non-heme iron by taking Vitamin C.
If you take too much calcium, it can inhibit non-heme iron absorption, too.
Foods with high amounts of iron include:
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Red meat
- Oily fish (e.g., tuna and salmon)
No matter your dietary choices, there are foods you can eat that are rich in iron.
Assuming you do get enough from food, including iron in a multivitamin may result in you consuming too much iron, which, as we’ve seen, can lead to dangerous health complications.
3. Risk of Iron Poisoning
Until the 1990s, iron poisoning was the leading cause of medicine overdoses in children under 6.
Today, many multivitamins for kids don’t include iron to help avoid this risk.
If the multivitamins you use contain iron, they need to be stored in a safe place, out of the sight and reach of kids. You need to ensure they can’t take it without supervision.
4. Our Bodies Struggle to Regulate Iron Absorption via Supplements
When iron is absorbed through food, our bodies can regulate the absorption. This isn’t as effective with supplements, however.
This is because many supplements or multivitamins containing iron are enteric-coated, and your intestine will take longer to absorb them properly.
Iron supplements are usually designed specifically for people with a deficiency, and the quantity of iron may be higher than is needed for people with regular levels of iron.
When Should you Buy Multivitamins with Iron?
There are a few cases where you can consider taking a multivitamin with iron.
1. You’re At Risk of Deficiency
If you’re at particular risk of iron deficiency, then consider taking a multivitamin with iron.
Groups at risk of iron deficiency include:
- Infants between 6 and 12 months if they are only fed breast milk or formula that is not fortified in iron
- Women with heavy periods who lose a lot of blood each month
- Anyone who regularly donates blood
That said, even if you fall into any of these categories, you should still consult your doctor before taking iron supplements or multivitamins with iron.
2. Your Doctor Recommends It
The number one reason you should consider a multivitamin with iron is if your doctor actively recommends it.
They will be able to provide you with an accurate and trustworthy opinion that’s not always possible over the internet.
When choosing a multivitamin, you need to make sure it contains ingredients that will positively contribute to your overall health.
Iron is a vital element that we all need to stay healthy, but too much can lead to health risks.
If you’re unsure whether you should take a multivitamin with or without iron, you should talk to your doctor first. They’ll help you decide whether you need one, and can recommend the right one for your needs.