Recently a lady who came into the pharmacy for some prescriptions revealed that she was anaemic and was recommended by her doctor for iron infusion. She rejected the notion as she feared needles. She didn’t think it was such a big deal to go without, she might think about taking an oral supplement down the track? She wondered if iron is really that important?

While this is not the first time, I’ve come across such comment, it is a concern that many in the general population have little knowledge about the importance of vitamins and minerals, and the role they play in our body. 

I’m not about to go through ALL the minerals here. It would be a book volume by the time I’m finished! Here’s a digestible piece of information on iron. Apologise to all you nerds out there, this is a VERY brief summary.

So, what on earth is iron for?

  • It needs to be there (co-factor) so that other enzymes can do their job. These enzymes are required to regulate brain chemicals, such as noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals play roles in maintaining your blood pressure, mental health, memory, sleep, digestion and the list goes on.
  • It is also important for thyroid function, DNA repair, immune system, making of red blood cells, transport oxygen, detoxification and hair/skin and nail formation. 

Yeah, you can say that iron is kind of important.

If you’re an athletic and you’re low in iron, you want to read on… 

Recently, the School of Human Sciences (Exercise and Sport Science) at the University of Western Australia did a study looking at “The Impact of Morning Versus Afternoon Exercise on Iron Absorption in Athletes”. Study was done on endurance athletes. 

Following a 90 min running protocol, they measured the athletes’ iron level in the morning and evening. They found iron level higher in the morning. 

What is going on? During the exercise, a twofold to fourfold increase in an inflammatory marker called Interleukin-6 was noted. This in turn give rise to hepcidin. The WHATHAT???

Hepcidin is regarded as the main iron regulatory hormone. When hepcidin is high, iron absorption is impaired, and the reverse is true. Both interleukin-6 and hepcidin seems to follow a circadian rhythm, with hepcidin reaches its peak by the afternoon before subsiding in the evening. 

A good time to take iron supplement?

There seemed to be a sweet spot, the authors found iron was best taken in the morning SHORTLY AFTER exercise, before hepcidin starts to creep up. It seems like there are perhaps a few exercise-induced mechanisms which promotes iron absorption. 

Maybe this is a good enough reason to go for a run or a bike ride before taking your iron supplement?

Ref: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(10):2147-2155