Supplements: The ‘commonly’ taken vitamin that can prove ‘fatal’ – NHS issues warning

Essential Vitamins – Express Health

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Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy. One of those vitamins is iron, which is important in making red blood cells – a cellular component of blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Most people should get all the iron they need through their diet.

However, some people may need to take iron supplements.

The NHS explains: “Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period (heavy periods) are at higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements.”

According to UK recommendations, the amount of iron you need is:

  • 8.7mg a day for men over 18
  • 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
  • 8.7mg a day for women over 50.

According to the NHS, “very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children, so always keep iron supplements out of the reach of children”.

Studies point to the potential harms caused by iron supplementation.

One study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found iron supplementation to be associated with risk of death.

Researchers assessed the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in relation to total mortality in 38,772 older women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study.

The Iowa Women’s Health Study16 was designed to examine associations between several host, dietary, and lifestyle factors and the incidence of cancer in postmenopausal women.

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Supplement use was self-reported in 1986, 1997, and 2004. Through December 31, 2008, a total of 15, 594 deaths were identified through the State Health Registry of Iowa and the National Death Index.

The use of multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper were associated with increased risk of total mortality when compared with corresponding nonuse.

“In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron,” the researchers observed.

What does the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) advise?

“Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.”

According to the DHSC, if you take iron supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful.

The health body continues: “Taking 17mg or less a day of iron supplements is unlikely to cause any harm. But continue taking a higher dose if advised to by a GP.”

Good dietary sources of iron

Some foods contain more iron than others.

“Red meats (beef, lamb and pork) and offal are particularly rich sources of iron, and the iron they contain is easily absorbed,” explains the British Dietetics Association (BDA).

According to the BDA, other animal proteins such as fish and poultry are also good sources of iron.

Plant-based sources of iron include:

  • Pulses and legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Dark green vegetables (such as spinach, kale and broccoli)
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Some foods are fortified with iron.

The BDA explains: “All bread sold in the UK, other than wholemeal, must be fortified (with iron, calcium, thiamine and niacin). Baby formulas are all fortified with iron. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with iron.”

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