Friday, July 13, 2012

How Much Iron Should I Take for my Anemia?

Hi, Thank you for taking my question.
I have been diagnosed with anemia since I was a teenager. It seems once a year I have been told by a doctor to take iron pills, or eat liver. I am not going to eat liver. I was wondering if I eat beef, though, how much should I eat a day, should I eat it more than daily or just a number of days a week? 
Kristin K.

Hi Kristin,

First of all I want to clarify there are several different types of anemia. I'm assuming yours is from iron-deficiency since your doctor has suggested iron pills. (But an FYI to others with anemia, it may be related to a deficiency of vitamin B12, folic acid, or even vitamin E--so know that taking iron does nothing to help any condition other than iron-deficiency anemia).

The daily value for dietary iron is 18 milligrams. Supplement pills have 2 to 5 times as much iron as this, depending on the chemical form of the supplement. You could never get this amount in a reasonable diet--it's nearly impossible just to meet the RDA--so the pills would make a much bigger difference in your condition. A 3-ounce serving of ground beef has less than 2.5 milligrams; the same portion of liver has 6 milligrams. So they can't even come close to what an iron supplement can do for you.

It seems there is some reason you are reluctant to take the supplements that you are told to take every year. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps if you don't feel bad you're not inclined to treat your condition. In fact, some people are used to their low hematocrit and hemoglobin (measures of the red blood cells) and don't have symptoms. If this is the case, you may just opt to walk around slightly anemic. 
On the other hand, you may like to try an experiment: take the iron pills as prescribed for 2 months and see if you notice an increase in your mood and energy level as your blood levels rise to normal--wouldn't that be nice!

For more on iron-deficiency anemia click here for a summary from a reputable site. 

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