There are a few reasons why this can happen.
Gastrointestinal problems can prevent your body from getting iron from the foods you eat. “As you age, cells in the stomach lining can die, so iron is not absorbed properly,” says Michael Auerbach, a clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University in DC.
Certain medications, such as those that treat acid reflux, can also interfere with iron metabolism. Taking low-dose aspirin every day increased the risk of anemia by 20 percent in older adults, according to a 2023 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and reduce iron levels through blood loss.
An underlying health problem can also cause iron deficiency, says Caroline Cromwell, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Some conditions that are common in older adults, such as ulcers, colon polyps and cancer, can cause internal bleeding, she says.
If you suspect you have low iron levels or have any signs of anemia, such as fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and cold hands or feet, consult your healthcare provider before taking any action.
Men and women over 50 need 8 milligrams of iron per day. “Most American adults get enough iron through their diet,” says Vijaya Surampudi, an assistant professor of medicine at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition in California.
But vegans and vegetarians may need up to 15 mg, he says. This is because the body absorbs only 1 to 10 percent of the iron from plants and iron-fortified foods, called nonheme, compared to the 25 to 30 percent of heme iron found in meat. , fish and birds.
To help iron absorption from plant foods, eat those that contain vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli) at the same meal. Research suggests this can help you get up to seven times more iron from plant sources.
Also consider what you are drinking. Coffee and tea reduce iron absorption. The antioxidants in these drinks, called polyphenols, can bind to iron, preventing it from entering the bloodstream, Surampudi says. Stop drinking these drinks an hour or more before eating.
Iron is found in both animal and plant foods. These are some of the main sources of iron.
- Fortified breakfast cereal1 serving: 18 mg.
- oysterscooked, 3 ounces: 8 mg.
- White beanscanned, 1 cup: 8 mg.
- lentilscooked, 1 cup: 6 mg.
- tofufirm, 1 cup: 6 mg.
- Beeftop round, cooked, 4 ounces: 4 mg.
- Dadbaked, 1 medium with skin: 2 mg.
- Pumpkin seeds1 ounce: 2 mg.
- cooked tomatoescanned, ½ cup: 2 mg.
- Breadwhite or whole wheat, 1 slice: 1 mg.
- Chickenroast, 4 ounces: 1 mg.
Should you take an iron supplement?
Given this information, you may be tempted to take iron pills for insurance. Don’t do it without talking to your doctor, says Cromwell. There are other types of anemia and supplements can mask the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. This can delay the diagnosis of any medical problem that is causing iron deficiency.
What’s more, your body retains iron, so you can consume too much. A 2001 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 13 percent of white Americans between the ages of 67 and 96 had iron levels that were too high, partly due to taking supplements. Too much of the mineral can cause digestive problems, such as cramps and nausea, Cromwell says.
And, in the long term, iron can build up and damage the organs where it is stored, such as the liver or heart. Research has also linked iron overload to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, certain heart conditions, and cancer.
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