Maintaining healthy iron levels is essential for the production of haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. Without the chemical the production of blood cells falters, setting the stage for heart problems and infections. Taking supplements and eating a balanced diet can offset these risks, but it may be worth limiting the intake of certain superfoods as well.
In 2019, the medical journal Cureus reported the case of a 66-year-old physician who treated his osteoarthritis with six turmeric extract capsules (538 mg) daily.
The report states that over the duration of the treatment, the man’s iron and ferritin levels were consistent with iron deficiency.
Two weeks after discontinuing the turmeric supplement and continuing a usual iron supplement, however, the man’s haemoglobin returned to normal.
“Turmeric was associated with significant iron deficiency anaemia, consistent with the binding of available iron in the gut and the prevention of absorption,” explained the authors of the report.
“This resolved after the turmeric was stopped, consistent with animal studies.”
Although the causality of turmeric is hard to prove here, no other cause of iron deficiency or blood loss was found during the examination.
Certain health websites recommend the use of turmeric supplements to relieve symptoms of arthritis, but other reports also highlight a risk of iron deficiency with such supplements.
In fact, several case studies have been described where the anaemia of patients has responded positively to discontinuing turmeric.
According to the National Institutes of Health, turmeric is among the specs known to inhibit the absorption of iron by 20 percent to 90 percent in humans.
The effects are dose-dependent, meaning the more turmeric consumed, the greater the inhibitory effect on iron.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the stoichiometric qualities of the spice could be responsible for these effects.
In fact, these qualities of turmeric “indicate it could bind nearly all absorbable iron and cause iron deficiency”, explains the health body.
Given the widespread use of turmeric supplements to treat common ailments, the case study authors believe further attention is warranted.
Turmeric is one of several plant-based foods known to inhibit the absorption of iron by the body.
Generally, factors include phytates – found in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – and polyphenols like tannins – found in coffee, tea and red wine.
In 2002, researchers suggested that the polyphenols in purple grape juice were potent enough to inhibit the absorption of iron.
The findings, published in the journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, showed that grape juice and prune juice both had “profound inhibitory effects on iron bioavailability”.
The authors noted: “These inhibitory effects were likely due to the high levels of polyphenolic compounds that bind and thereby prevent the absorption of soluble iron.”
Adhering to a well-balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods will generally help prevent iron deficiency anaemia.
For some people, however, it may be necessary to take iron supplements under a doctor’s supervision to maintain healthy levels.
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