Iron supplements and iron-deficiency anaemia.

Health supplements are best taken under a doctor’s advice. That is particularly true of iron supplements. "Unless you have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, taking pure iron supplements could endanger your health rather than improve it," says Dr Cassandra Chang, Senior ​​​Clinical Pharmacist, Pharmacy Departm​​ent​, Singapore General Hospital​ (S​GH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.​

Iron overload can lead to joint inflammation such as arthritis and hemochromatosis, a condition in which the liver cannot get rid of excess iron in the body. Extra iron is then channelled to the liver, heart, pancreas or testicles, posing a risk of organ damage.

Taking too many iron supplements without medical supervision can be dangerous. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new iron supplements, or changing your dosage.

Causes of iron-deficiency anaemia

The iron-rich protein or haem​​oglobin in your red blood cells carries oxygen to the cells in your organs. People with iron-deficiency anaemia may have a low red blood cell count, or their red blood cells may not have sufficient haemoglobin. Red meat, liver and egg yolk provide a rich source of iron. Thus, strict vegetarians and vegans may be more prone to suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia.

"In Singapore, most cases of anaemia are caused by iron deficiency in the diet and/or depletion of the body’s iron stores through excessive bleeding," says Dr Chang. Examples of bleeding are heavy, long and frequent menstruation, gastric ulcers, colon polyp, colon cancer or hiatal hernia which result in slow, chronic blood loss.

Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s or celiac disease may also cause poor iron absorption and iron deficiency. As calcium competes with iron for absorption in the body, you​ may also develop iron-deficiency anaemia if you consume too many calcium-containing antacids.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia

  1. Pale skin
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Heart palpitations
  4. Fatigue and weakness
  5. Cold hands and feet
  6. Giddiness
  7. Brittle nails

See next page for information on anaemia treatment, prevention and tips to improve iron absorption​.

​Ref: T12