Do vegan women get enough iron?

Question:

Have you found women with iron absorption issues? For example, too many other minerals or not enough vitamin C? Or is absorption usually OK, and just the amount of iron the issue?

Answer:

Yes, many women have iron absorption issues. Almost all vegans get enough iron and enough vitamin C, so if they have iron issues, it’s probably from poor absorption. This is usually not a problem for men, but is for women who menstruate due to blood loss.

Someone might not be eating vitamin C at the optimal times for it to increase iron absorption – eat foods with vitamin C with whole grains, leafy greens, legumes and other high-iron foods. I often eat a small orange or two with my meals to increase iron absorption.

And you also need to remember that many people drink tea with all their meals, which inhibits absorption. Coffee does the same thing.

9 Responses to “Do vegan women get enough iron?”

  1. Percy F. Pigeon Says:

    Hi Jack,

    In relation to iron absorption – I wonder if proton pump inhibitors might be something to look out for with vegans in regard to iron absorption. I had awful iron levels at one point (I’m female) when I was vegetarian 15 years ago, and I was on PPIs. GP prescribed iron supplements, which were effective, but didn’t mention that PPIs might contribute. These are widely prescribed medications – I wonder if they could be a factor for some vegan women?

    Also I wonder about the effect of PPIs for vegetarians who are relying on milk and eggs for B12. Perhaps the combination of small amounts of protein bound B12 as the only B12 source, with drastic reductions in stomach acid, might reduce absorption and contribute to suboptimal B12 levels.

    What is your opinion

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Percy,

    It appears that PPIs do lower iron status:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21318590

    Your suspicions about B12 also appear to be correct:

    http://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0615/p1425.html

  3. Michael Says:

    Hi!

    I just want to ad that me and my wife take acerola cherry powder with every meal and the iron levels are great.

    Michael

  4. Chloe Says:

    I thought I’d add my little anecdote:

    I started donating blood every time it comes to my workplace. A side benefit is that they test your iron levels before allowing you to donate, so I get tested every 50-60 days.

    The only time in my life I’ve been anemic what during pregnancy, before I became vegan. Since then, I haven’t any issue whatsoever, I do not supplement and do not combine foods to increase absorbtion. I just eat what I eat. 🙂

  5. Carry Says:

    Just to be clear…it’s the caffeine in tea and coffee that inhibits iron absorption, correct? Drinking herbal tea and decaf coffee shouldn’t affect iron absorption. Or do I understand that wrong?

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Carry,

    I’m afraid that it’s not the caffeine but rather the polyphenols (which include tannins). Many herbal teas contain polyphenols. You can read more here: http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=2663

  7. Carry Says:

    Thank you very much for the clarification on tea. I value the work you do and appreciate learning new things through your site!

  8. Percy F. Pigeon Says:

    Thanks for your comment Jack.

    It seemed reasonable to consider proton pump inhibitor use as a possible factor influencing iron and animal-source B12, via effects on stomach acid production.

    I think proton pump inhibitors are quite commonly prescribed medications. So I wonder if there are any people out there who felt they had to give up on veganism or vegetarianism because they couldn’t get their iron and B12 up to adequate levels, when perhaps a change or cessation of medication, in combination with appropriate supplementation, may have been an effective alternative to eating more animal products.

    Additionally, perhaps vegan women, and ovo lacto vegetarians, adhering to PPI regimens might need to monitor their iron and B12 levels, respectively, more scrupulously than other plant-based diet adherents?

    I’ve been wondering about this because it seems to me that the medicos doing most of the PPI prescribing and seeing most of the first presentations of iron or B12 deficiency are GPs, who in my experience usually have very little understanding of iron and or B12 absorption and factors which may influence this. Perhaps when dealing with the GP regarding the influence of diet on iron or B12 deficiency symptoms, it may help for vegans and vegetarians to be armed with some appropriate scientific citations, like those you have supplied.

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Percy,

    I have added a very short section to the Iron page of VeganHealth.com about PPIs to make people aware of the issue.

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