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Elderly people may not need to take iron supplements.
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Your body needs iron to produce DNA, red blood cells and adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the main energy source used by your cells. If you don't get enough iron regularly, you're more likely to develop anemia, which can cause weakness, extreme fatigue and heart palpitations. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, elderly men and women over age 65 need only about 8 milligrams of iron each day. While some elderly adults may have trouble getting enough through diet alone, most consume far more than required. Do not begin taking iron supplements until you've spoken to your doctor.
A study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2001 reported that elderly Americans over 65 are much more likely to have elevated levels of iron in their bodies than low iron stores. Because of this, the Linus Pauling Institute recommends that the elderly should not take supplemental iron unless they have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency. Elderly individuals with abnormally high iron in their blood may have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease.
Possible Side Effects
Elderly people who are strict vegetarians or vegans, who have had gastric bypass surgery, or who suffer from conditions such as celiac disease that interfere with nutrient absorption, may need to take iron supplements to avoid becoming deficient. Supplemental iron can cause heartburn, diarrhea, nausea or constipation. If you take too much, it may damage your liver and cause skin discoloration. In extreme instances, an overdose of iron can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, a drop in blood pressure, nervous system damage, breathing difficulties and coma. Never take more than the recommended dosage of iron supplements.
Iron supplements can interfere with the proper function of the following medications, among others: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen; allopurinol; antacids; levothyroxine; hypertension drugs, such as enalapril; bisphosphonates used for treating osteoporosis; and antibiotics, such as doxycycline and tetracycline. Some of these medications can significantly increase your body's absorption of iron, while others decrease it. Tell your doctor about all the drugs and dietary supplements you're taking before using supplemental iron. And to avoid interactions, be sure to take iron supplements two hours before or two hours after taking medications .
It's best for elderly individuals who are at risk of low iron levels to first try to increase their iron intake with food before taking iron supplements. Iron is found in both plant- and animal-based foods. Good sources include meat, seafood, poultry, beans and legumes, nuts and fortified breakfast cereals. Plant-based sources contain nonheme iron, which is not as easily absorbed as the heme iron found in animal products. To increase your nonheme iron absorption, eat rich plant sources of iron with a food high in vitamin C, such as having a bean soup containing diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. Consuming a nonheme iron source with meat, such as beef, will also increase your overall iron intake.