It has struck me for decades that most doctors are quick to caution against taking virtually every beneficial vitamin. Either because you theoretically (but never in practice) might “overdose” with fat-soluble vitamins, or you are just supposedly “wasting” water-soluble vitamins when they’re excreted in the urine. (Of course, the best studies show this doesn’t really happen, as I discuss in the sidebar below.)
But at the same time, most doctors and public health experts are inexplicably committed to pushing the one supplement that really is dangerous—iron.
I’ve shared with you studies that show the vast majority of men, and most women (except for a few who are of childbearing age), do not need iron supplements. In fact, excess iron is a huge health hazard. It’s been linked to increased risk of cancer, organ failure, heart disease, infections, and glaucoma.
And now, a recent study shows that too much iron can actually accelerate the aging process.
I’ll tell you more about that in a moment, but first I’d like to share with you how iron works in your body—and why too much is so detrimental to your health.
Iron—the ultimate oxidant
Your body uses iron in hemoglobin of red blood cells to bind with oxygen in the lungs, carry that oxygen through the blood, and release it into the tissues—where it helps generate the energy and water necessary for your cells to do their jobs.
So yes, iron is an essential nutrient. But your entire body only needs a total amount of 4 grams of iron, which is easy to obtain from foods like beef, liver, clams, oysters, spinach, lentils, and beans.
In fact, taking iron supplements can cause excess iron to overload the tissues. And that leads to ionization—and acts as the mother of all oxidants.
Why is this so bad for your health? Well, we know that oxidants contribute to chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. They also are culprits in inflammation, which contributes to everything from dementia to diabetes.
So, the more iron in your body, the more of these deadly oxidants you have circulating throughout your blood and tissues.
Of course, my faculty advisor in medical school, Dr. Baruch Blumberg, knew all of this decades ago. In fact, he was a pioneer in proposing that excess iron in the body increases the risk of cancer.
But although Dr. Blumberg had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, that was not good enough for the bureaucrats at NIH—who refused to fund his research on this topic. So I worked with Dr. Blumberg and his colleagues to obtain funding instead from the Department of Energy (DOE), which has carried out a medical research program on radiation and ionization (like that caused by excess iron) since its days as the old Atomic Energy Commission. Unlike the NIH, this agency understood that the kind of ionization created by excess iron causes cancer (just as with atomic radiation).
Dr. Blumberg, his colleagues, and I obtained the funding from the DOE and did the research. And as you know, we showed that excess iron in the body is associated with an increase in all cancers in men and women. And, as I mentioned earlier, other research shows an overload of iron increases the risk of heart disease, infections, organ failure, and glaucoma.
Shocking research shows iron can age you 2.5 times faster
And now, recent lab research shows iron also accelerates the aging process.1
The study was done in roundworms, which are used in many aging experiments because researchers can observe the entire life cycle.
Scientists already know iron plays a role in degenerative brain changes associated with aging—including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. But for this study, the researchers decided to see what happens in the body when roundworms are given supplemental iron.
First of all, the researchers found that minerals like iron, calcium, copper, and manganese increase in the body with age, but phosphorus and potassium decrease. Meaning that the older you get, the more you need to monitor which minerals you take in supplemental form.
The researchers then discovered that the roundworms given extra iron had an increase in signs of aging…and a reduction in the average lifespan and maximum longevity.
And not just a little increase, either. The researchers fed iron supplements to four-day-old worms, and noted that after just a couple days of this diet, they looked like 15-day-old worms.
Think about that. The worms given extra iron looked two and a half times their age. The researchers think this damage may be due to the surplus iron causing dysfunction in proteins that are associated with the aging process.
Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent the havoc excess iron can cause in your body and brain.
As I always recommend, never take a supplement that contains iron unless you’re diagnosed by your doctor as having iron-deficiency anemia. And you can safely lower your iron levels, and body iron stores, by being a regular blood donor, which is good for your health and your community.
[SIDEBAR] The “overdose myth” and 4 vitamins you need more of
I’ve written many times about how research shows you can’t really overdose on a fat-soluble vitamin like D—because the body simply stores excess D to ensure it has a constant, ready supply of this critical nutrient.
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble nutrient that falls victim to the “overdose” myth. That’s because mainstream medicine simply doesn’t understand there are eight different forms of active vitamin E. So the “recommended dose” is woefully low—meaning you can take many times more E to help prevent dementia, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.
When it comes to water-soluble vitamins, make sure to take vitamin C in two 250 mg doses per day, since your tissues can only handle this amount at one time. But make no mistake—we all need vitamin C every day.
For B vitamins, some people notice that their urine turns bright yellow after they’ve taken a daily B complex supplement. That’s because your body excretes whichever B’s it didn’t need that day. If you’re concerned about this, don’t take a B complex one day, and then start taking it again the following day. You’ll notice your urine doesn’t have that bright yellow coloration. Meaning that after just 24 hours, your body used up all of its B vitamins.
I base my B complex dosage recommendations on the levels shown to be optimal in many studies: 50 mg a day of B1 (thiamine), 50 mg a day of B6, 400 mcg of folate (B9), and 100 mcg of B12. But, of course, people are different in their diets, and metabolically—which can affect supplement dosages. Still, I believe it’s better that some people get a little extra B every day (with the excess harmlessly eliminated in the urine), versus a lot of people never getting enough.
1“Iron promotes protein insolubility and aging in C. elegans.” Aging. 2014 Nov;6(11):975-91.