Although the public often gets the message that iron is “good”, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing – especially for men who don’t menstruate (lose blood and thus iron monthly). Sometimes I even wonder if the 97% female majority of a major dietetics group doesn’t influence this message somewhat.
Yes, iron deficiency, which can eventually lead to anemia, is the world’s number one nutritional deficiency. And yes, one can feel fatigue even before full blown iron deficiency anemia (small pale and reduced red blood cells) hits. But it’s partly a gender issue – especially in developed countries like the U.S. where meat and iron fortification are plentiful.
You see, most men accumulate iron between their teen and middle years, up to a point that (debatably) increases heart disease risk (iron is a pro-oxidant) and could even damage cells (liver, muscle, etc.). You “damage” muscle cells and tendon cells enough with chronic weightlifting.
So what does one do?
Mix-up protein foods and don’t rely too heavily on just meats (highly absorbable heme iron) or rely too much on eggs and dairy, which actually block iron availability somewhat. (And, if coupled with frequent blood donations could be bad.)
If you’re a guy who knows he’s not anemic, consider the “Silver” (iron-free) type of multivitamin/multi-mineral tablets. It’s likely that you eat too much iron from the foods you already ingest; you probably don’t need even more from your supplements!
Even a low-moderate amount of supplemented vitamin C (~250 mg is a common dose) or vitamin C-rich foods like citrus, strawberries, red bell peppers, etc. will further up your absorption of iron.
Some foods decrease iron absorption such as tannins in tea, phytates in whole grains and oxalate in spinach.
Do you consume lots of these?
Get used to reading Nutrition Facts panels on food labels. Iron is one of the “highlighted” minerals that you’ll always see there. Men don’t need more than 8 mg daily (teens 11 mg) and you probably shouldn’t consume more than 30mg per day.
If you are concerned enough to donate blood – helping yourself and others – consider this: the Red Cross does a simple density check on a finger prick sample to check if you are “ready” to donate. However, it’s possible to be low iron (e.g. if you’ve been donating 4-5 times per year for a long time) and they’d still clear you. I personally don’t appease the “vampires” more than twice per year these days.
Whether you’re a guy or a gal, the information in this list is helpful when adjusting iron intake (upward or downward), thus affecting bodily stores over the weeks and months.