Does Vitamin C Help Iron Absorption

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Does Vitamin C Help With Iron Absorption

Opposites Attract – A Love Story

As mentioned in a previous article, my wife and I have both undergone weight loss surgery. Along the way, we have encountered a few struggles, but, just as in our dieting lives prior to surgery, our post surgery trials are different.

Lab-TestingOnce a person has had bariatric weight loss surgery, getting labs done and eagerly awaiting the results will have become an ever more important part of their life. A lot of vitamins and minerals are prescribed at the time of surgery. We need to check, on a regular basis, how our bodies are absorbing these nutrients as well as those consumed in foods.

We were both told by our respective doctors to take Vitamin C with Iron at bedtime. No other bedtime supplements.

So that begs the question:

Does Vitamin C help with Iron Absorption?Vitamin-C-with-Iron

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had appointments for a full checkup. Her lab results came back first, appearing to be normal, but the doctor called and explained that her Iron levels were low. My labs came back three days later, also appearing to be normal, but the doctor called to explain that my Iron levels are high.

Now, we have some theories that we have to address regarding why I would have higher Iron levels than she does, but there really isn’t an explanation for either of our Iron levels being out of the acceptable range.

It is actually this most recent event that made me decide to start a blog about this because I thought I was doing everything right, and I was wrong. I want to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned while trying to find out about what affects Iron absorption.

Today, I am addressing the relationship between Iron and Vitamin C.

[UPDATE] 10/16/2018Hemochromatosis

It turns out that I have a gene that causes my body to absorb as much as four times the Iron that it should. This condition is called hemochromatosis. I don’t know a lot about this condition, but it is something I will learn a lot about and write about it later.

We Consume Two Types of Iron – Where Do They Come From?

When considering whether you should increase your Vitamin C intake to boost your Iron absorption, it’s important to know that there are two types of Iron and that, while Vitamin C is a vital nutrient, not all Iron absorption is improved by Vitamin C intake.

  • Heme Iron: This type of Iron has a real simple explanation; it comes animal High-Iron-Burgermeats like beef, chicken, pork, poultry and fish. This type Iron also comes from animal products such as yogurt, eggs and milk.
  • Non-heme Iron: This is any Iron that does not come from animals. This type Iron comes from fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and even from animal meats and products*.Almonds-Are-High-In-Iron  

*While some non-heme Iron can be derived from animals, heme Iron cannot be derived from non-animal sources. The Iron levels in animal-based food can be around 50% non-heme Iron.

Vitamin C – Where Does it Come From?

Ascorbic acid and Vitamin C are the same thing. Medical studies use the term “ascorbic acid.” I choose to use the term “Vitamin C.”

Simply put, you can get Vitamin C in pill form just about anywhere, but there are Vitamin-C-with-Ironmany, many other sources for Vitamin C. This availability makes it hard for most modern day humans to have a Vitamin C deficiency.

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines…all citrus are great sources of Vitamin C, but there are many other fruits and vegetables that provide more. One medium-sized orange delivers about 75% of all the Vitamin C that a person needs in a day, but a cup of strawberries offers almost 100%!

When we think about getting Vitamin C, we don’t think about red peppers, green peppers, brussels sprouts, asparagus or kale, but the truth is that all of these foods offer more vitamin c per serving than an orange, and there are lots more, but hey, I love orange juice, so I’ll just get my Vitamin C from orange juice!

You Need to Know This!

The short answer to your question is “Yes.” Vitamin C does help with Iron absorption. That answer certainly is short, but it leaves out a lot of information about the relationship between Iron absorption and Vitamin C. Now that I’ve provided just enough knowledge to tell you the rest, here goes!

Vitamin C does a GREAT job of boosting non-heme Iron absorption (from plant-based sources) but it does nothing to affect heme Iron absorption (from animal sources). That’s right, nothing.

So, if you are the person getting all of your protein from meat products, you really don’t have to worry about consuming extra Vitamin C with your meal. That’s great news because, if you love beef, you probably aren’t loving kale, right?

Alright, so maybe that’s just me.

If you are, however, a vegetarian or you just don’t eat a lot of meat and are getting most of your Iron from non-animal sources (which includes Iron supplements) you NEED to consume Vitamin C at the same time in order to take advantage of the enhanced absorption that Vitamin C offers.

It is estimated that more than 90% if our Iron intake comes from non-heme Iron sources and as long as we’re talking about percentages, this is a great time to mention that our bodies only absorb about 10 of the amount of non-heme Iron sources than it would from heme iron sources. (I realize that’s a difficult sentence to read, but it will make sense in a moment)

Now, let’s do the math on that!

Our bodies absorb 10-15 percent of heme Iron but only 10 percent of non-heme Iron. My little calculator tells me that we are absorbing only 1-1.5% of the Iron we eat from 90 percent of our food. That’s where the Vitamin C comes in, folks!

How Much Iron and Vitamin C Do You Need?

OK, so let’s talk very briefly about Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) because there is a lot of confusion here which can lead to consuming too much Iron. Too much Iron is a bad thing and it’s not hard to do. If you’ll recall, it was my high Iron level that caused me to start researching Iron and how to control it.

The RDA is how much of a nutrient that is recommended for a human to EAT, not ABSORB. We absorb between 10 and 15 percent of heme Iron that we consume.

We don’t absorb all the nutrients that we consume and the RDA chart accounts for average absorption rates for all nutrients.

  • If you are an adult male, the RDA of iron is 8mg*
  • If you are a pre-menopausal adult female, the RDA of iron is 18mg* (If pregnant, 27mg)
  • If you are a postmenopausal woman, the RDA of iron is 8mg*

Vegetarians Take Note: Vegetarians need to consume about 1.8 times the amount of Iron that your non-vegetarian counterpart does.Vegetarian-food-pyramid

As for Vitamin C, adding 25-50mg to a meal will enhance absorption of non-heme Iron. It will also provide all of the vitamin C that you need in a day (65-90mg)

Conclusion – Eating Through the Statistics

Vitamin C is proven to enhance absorption of non-heme Iron. In some foods non-heme Iron is absorbed 4 times as much when accompanied by Vitamin C, but Vitamin C does nothing to enhance the absorption of heme Iron.

In order to absorb more Iron from the 90 percent of the non-heme iron that we eat, one should include foods in their meal that provide sufficient amounts of Vitamin C as this effect only takes place when Vitamin C is consumed at the same time as the Iron.Wine_and_Cheese

There are foods, such as teas, wines and cheese that can also slow the absorption of Iron. It is suggested that increasing Vitamin C intake with these foods can help to counteract their effect on Iron absorption.

This article was meant to provide a rudimentary knowledge base on the subject of Vitamin C and its effect on Iron absorption. In many cases, knowledge like this is enough for a person to tweak their diet just a little bit in order to solve a problem. Sometimes, however, medical advice or treatment is needed.

This was not medical advice. Here’s how to get some:

If you believe that you have unexplainable Iron issues, contact your doctor.

[UPDATE] 10/16/2018

I did contact my doctor and learned that I have a hereditary disease of which I am See-your-doctora carrier. I learned that there is a 100% chance that I passed it down to my children, just as it was passed on to me and as it will be passed down to my

grandchildren. I’ve not known about this condition for 52 years. The sooner someone knows about it, the less damage the untreated condition will cause.

ALWAYS contact your doctor if something isn’t working right in your body! With changes from bariatric surgery, we need to become downright vigilant about the way our body works.

If you have any questions, or even suggestions of things I might ad to this article, please write and I will get back to you.

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Comments

  1. Garen says:

    Wow, I never realized that Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption.  My problem is I don’t eat all the healthy.  I know I should change my diet since my father is diabetic, but it’s really hard to eat right.

    I probably don’t get enough iron as I should.  The only thing eat that contains iron is spinach.  But, I was wondering what do you think the biggest con to not having enough iron in our body is?  Also, what do you consider the drawback to having to much iron in your system?

    Have you heard of drinking lemon juice at the end of the day.  It helps your body flush out toxins.  I actually did start doing this a week or so ago.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Garen, diabetes can run in families. You really need to be vigilant throughout your life to see what’s going on with your blood sugar so, if you start to see changes, you have the best chance to correct them!

      Your body depends on Iron for many developmental functions. A lack of iron or excess iron, for that matter, can cause so many things that I can’t begin to list them, but we’re not talking about 1 day of low iron, we’re talking about low dietary iron in general is what will cause increasingly low blood iron until you go to the doctor with a symptom. Often times, going to the doctor with a symptom of low blood iron is already too late and the damage from it is done. That goes for high iron too, except that you CAN OD on iron in one day.

      Thanks for the comments! And stay vigilant!

  2. Maria says:

    Thank you for let us know about the relation between vitamin c and iron, it is very interesting. we must eat properly and check our body/mind at Dr office regularly. It is also interesting to know that vegetarians must take care about their intake of those tiny particles so important to our health, another reason to eat well. Thank you for this review 🙂

    1. John Guiles says:

      Thank you for your comments, Maria!

      It’s not just vegetarians, but also diabetics. Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s just hereditary.

  3. Sujandar Mahesan says:

    Vitamin C helping Iron Absorption is a great topic to talk about. I myself had some doubts in this area and now after reading through this wonderful article had those doubts vanish. 

    I always thought Vitamin C had nothing to do with Iron or Protein absorption. After reading this article it’s clear that it has a lot of say in it. 

    Thank you for sharing this article with all of us.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Thank you for the comment, Sujandar!

      I’m glad I could clear that up for you!

  4. Holly Knudson says:

    This is a great article on vitamin C, one of my favorite nutrients. My husband also has the SNP for Hemochromatosis. I make sure he doesn’t take vitamin C with food or cook with cast iron pans. He also donates blood quite regularly. 

    I like how you distinguished between heme and non-heme forms of vitamin C. I make my own lipsomal C and love what it does for my skin and adrenal glands. Also, in the winter time it helps me from getting sick. If I do get sick, I get over it more quickly if I take my C. 

    Please share more about you and your wife’s bariatric journeys. 

    Thank you!

    1. John Guiles says:

      Holly, thank you for the comments!

      The Heme and Non-Heme differentiation was something that I didn’t know about, either, until my diagnosis!

      I have to admit, my doctor didn’t say anything about cast iron pans and I’ve added two more to my collection since my diagnosis. I’m going to have to look into whether using them affects me negatively.

      I am lucky that right now my doctor doesn’t think I need to get into blood-letting (That’s my term for prescribed phlebotomy). Because of my inhibited digestive system, he thinks I can just cut out shellfish and other extra high sources of iron to get this under control, though, I have to admit, this diagnosis being new to me worries me a bit.

      This site is about our weight loss journey after having both had bariatric surgery, so there will be more! I will also be writing about dietary issues from people that I meet along the way.

      Iron can be tricky…Vitamin C is magic!!!

  5. Very interesting article. I am glad I came upon it. Taking extra vitamins to boost your immune system can get sometimes complicated if you don`t know what you are doing, or which vitamins support each other.
    Here you explain it thorough and it makes absolute sense.

    A balanced diet is very imported to follow to absorbed the right vitamins for our body.
    Thank you for a very thorough written article.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Andries, thank you very much for the thoughtful comments. It was particularly exciting to write this one because I had become very interested in the disparity in our outcomes considering that we both expected to be low in iron.

  6. Nuttanee says:

    Hi there! Very interesting post! I have a question how did you find out that you have the gene that can absorb Iron more? What kind of test did your doctor do? And definitely didn’t know that are 2 types of Iron, always assume that iron is iron. I have to take a look into that since taking the right iron can help me ease with my period cramps, I definitely might have to eat more vitamin c or take the vitamin C with my iron. 

    Unfortunately I am a meat eater, I guess I will take mi vitamin C when I eat kale then (yes, I love kale lol) 

    Thanks for a very informative post!

    Cheers

    1. John Guiles says:

      Hi! This is a great question that I actually asked my doctor. Here’s a short story on that…

      I went for my regular physical. My blood tests showed no signs of high iron, but there were other issues in my test results (Which were also in the normal range) that set off an alarm in my doctor’s review of my lab results.

      Just because you have every item in your blood panel come back within the normal range doesn’t mean that the relationship between all of the items is normal.

      My doctor considered my weight loss surgery and realized that it’s not likely that my vitamin D3 could be as high as it was, so he compared that with another marker that caused him to call me to come in for a second blood test.

      This blood draw was specifically a test to check my DNA for this gene defect and I have it.

      My doctor explained it much better (and much longer) than I did. I thought about posting his reply to me in my reply to you, but decided against that without thinking about it for a while.

      Wow! someone who loves kale AND admits that she’s a meat-eater. Careful! you may be castigated!

      Thanks for the great comments!

  7. Darrin R says:

    This is a very informative article! Within the Last 2 to 3 year’s I have been transitioning my diet to a plant based diet due do issues with the way my body breaks down meat. It was damaging my liver. Since then I have been trying to find out as much information that I could about nutrition.

    I have heard about the Vitamin C and Iron being used together, but I never knew about the heme and non heme types of Iron. Knowing this now, it will make it easier for me to better keep track of my intake since I am almost completely vegan, I still eat meat every once in a while. Who can pass up a good burger?

    Although I was aware of the body not being able to absorb all the nutrients that we consume, I wasn’t aware of the number’s on that. Our bodies are quite amazing in how they work!

    1. John Guiles says:

      Darrin, I am really glad that my article is reaching people like you who can really use the information.

      When a nutritional specialist utters words like “Take your vitamin C with iron at bedtime” you just do it. So, after the doctor says “you need to take iron out of your diet as completely as possible” a person begins to wonder.

      It makes me feel good that my research project has helped you out.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting on it!

  8. Chrissie Spurgeon says:

    I have learned a good deal more about  Iron and its absorption from your post, than I knew before.

    I did not know, for example, that Vegetarians need to consume 1.8 times the amount of Iron than do Meat-Eaters. But are you able to say if that still pertains when your diet does not include meat, but does include dairy products?

    I had assumed that foods such as Spinach were a really good source of iron, but again I did not realise that there were two types of Iron! And I had always assumed that I am pretty much well informed about the best foods to find vitamins and minerals. You live and learn.

    My children are all Vegetarian, and I eat very little meat, so I will definitely be passing this information on to my family. We all eat loads of fruit and a variety of vegetables, so hopefully we are covered for Vitamin C!

    Thank you so much for your really informative and helpful post.

    Chrissie 🙂

    1. John Guiles says:

      Chrissy, thank you for the comment!

      If you are eating meat, your body absorbs iron at the rate that the USDA used to determine how much iron your should consume. 

      Let’s say you ate a small steak and it had 17 grams of Iron in it and you wanted to eat the same amount of iron in vegetables. You would have to consume about 31 grams of iron in vegetables for your body to absorb the same amount of iron as the beef.

      So you don’t have to be one or the other, you can mix and match 😉 but if you are counting your overall intake, these numbers will help you make sure that you get the right amount.

  9. John says:

    Thank you for your post.  I had never thought about vitamin C and iron in terms of how they interact.  So your doctors both said to take Vitamin C with Iron at bedtime. Which is your question: Does Vitamin C help with Iron Absorption?It is interesting about the role of hereditary genes.  I too have a genetic issue that does not allow me to absorb vitamin B12.  This was in my favourite Multivitamin/Antioxidant (well just 1 of 60 or so ingredients) so a real nuisance of an issue as my levels were really high, causing other negative consequences…much like your issue with iron it seems.There are other forms of vitamin C – mixed ascorbates as ascorbic acid can be too harsh on the stomach for people, have you tried the other forms of vitamin C supplements?Fascinating article about the interaction of vitamin C and iron.  Your genetic issue and mine highlight the importance of getting yourself individually checked out.  Thank you

    1. John Guiles says:

      Thanks for the excellent comment, John!

      Checkups are very important. After bariatric surgery, you have a lifetime of physicals at 6 month intervals where they check all your blood panels and everything else because with an inhibited digestive system, it’s pretty easy to get off track. There are a very few vitamins that almost all weight loss surgery patients must take. B12 is one such vitamin. Also B6 and D3. Calcium is an issue, so addressing calcium helps with your D3 as long as you choose the right supplement.

      What a puzzle..the human body.

  10. Fredery says:

    “The RDA is how much of a nutrient that is recommended for a human to EAT, not ABSORB. We absorb between 10 and 15 percent of heme Iron that we consume.” that shocked me! This was really a unique and extremely educational article. 

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. 

    Which type of iron is better to consume?

    1. John Guiles says:

      Heme iron is easiest for your body to absorb and you would have to eat a lot of high iron veggies to get your iron. I thought the best way was to take an iron/C supplement as one pill (Very common for bariatric patients).

      Now, I just eat normally and avoid vitamin C within a couple of hours after eating. I can have both, just not at the same time.

      That is my recommendation, that a person eats normally and if you have an iron issue…either too much or not enough, It was my intention to make them aware of this relationship as well as how to count their iron intake since it takes almost twice as much Non-heme iron to equal heme iron.

      Thanks for the comment!

  11. Sam Frederiksen says:

    That is quite interesting, when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue my specialist at the time suggested I go on a high vitamin c supplement, so I can say I agree with what you are saying here, My experience comes first hand and was backed up by the referring specialist I was seeing at the time.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Thanks for the comment Sam!

      Yes, vitamin C helps many functions. A lot of things can go wrong with us if we allow our nutrients to get out of whack. It’s hard…perhaps impossible (If you start looking into how the required nutrients Sodium and Potassium work together and against each other at the same time, you’d wonder how we even stay alive with all this going on.

  12. Fiona says:

    It is good to know that there are steps we can take to assist with our iron absorption. It seems silly to take supplements if they aren’t being absorbed properly, so I will definitely keep in mind to have some food with vitamin c in it to make sure I’m making the most of the iron supplement.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Hey Fiona! If you are trying to increase your iron absorption, don’t take your vitamin C with just any food. Take it when you’ve eaten foods with a high iron content like spinach, kale or almonds. Vitamin C helps great with the iron in these foods, but remember that vitamin C doesn’t help at all with the iron that comes from animals.

      Thanks for your comment on my article!

  13. kingsleysbeauty says:

    Thank you for this information. I didn’t know their were two different types of iron. I have a friend who went vegan. Recently, she went to the doctor and was told her iron was low. She’s been increasing her food intake and taking supplements. However, she still not at the level she needs to be. 

    I’m going to share this article with her, and let read about the vitamin C connection. I believe it will be beneficial to her. Thanks again.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Yes! To a person with low iron who is a vegan, consuming vitamin C in very close proximity to consuming plant based iron or iron supplements can increase iron absorption by as much as 15 percent.

      That will be great information for you to share!

      Thanks for the comment!

  14. Dave M. says:

    There is certainly a lot to digest in your article!  I did not know how complex  the relationships is between Citamin C and Iron absorption.  You mention Vitamin C pils, but seems like you lean towards getting it naturally from food. What is your opinion of getting Vitamin C from a Multi- Vitamin such as One a Day?

    1. John Guiles says:

      Dave, how you get your vitamin C is a personal choice. As for me, I am avoiding any non-dietary iron. I have found that most multivitamins contain some iron, so I try to get all of my nutrients through food.

      It’s not possible for me because of having weight loss surgery BUT, vitamin C aids the absorption of iron from vegetables (Non-Heme), so, since I love orange juice so much, I prefer to have it with breakfast when I don’t eat any plants (Non-Heme).

      Vitamin C has no effect on iron from meat (Heme Iron).

      Thanks for checking out this page and leaving your comment!

  15. Rick says:

    Thank you for sharing this post to enlighten myself and others on the effects that Vitamin C has on absorption rates  of the different sources of iron .. I honestly didn’t know there was plant based and animal based iron sources . I wish you and your wife the best in your journey and hope you can control the hereditary disease that you have naturally and not through medication  . 

    1. John Guiles says:

      Thanks, Rick! Sometimes it’s a struggle, but for both of us, this is the best time in most of our adult lives!

  16. Paul says:

    I love to eat meat, so I guess I am not too worried about iron. I drink orange juice and love to eat strawberries, the vegetables…? I try.
    Kale? that is a hard one to swallow.
    That * after the Non-Heme Iron, helped clarify confusion with animal products.
    This described explanation on the two iron types seems very important, not to mention complicated, for a vegetarian.
    I have family members that need to follow a vegetarian life style.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Hey Paul! Thanks for the comments.

      Most serious types of vegetarians are aware of their need for iron and they are addressing it appropriately, but today, being a vegetarian or a vegan or well, there’s another one I can’t think of right now…anyway it’s kind of trendy. A lot of people are trying it and, because of health implications, they may be negatively affecting the way the rest of their lives go.

      Iron is very serious. Too much can cause achy joints and other problems. These problems do NOT go away after you correct your iron levels. Too little iron can retard development which is also permanent. So yes, the information is a little complicated, but important to know, especially if you have iron absorption issues or are on a low iron diet.

      Oh…and I won’t eat Kale either!!

  17. Alice says:

    Very enlightening article. 

    I always wondered if there’s a connection between Vitamin C and Iron. I seldom take vitamin C (pills) because of its negative side effect (constipation). But I do take them whenever I feel like I am going to come down with a flu. Most of the time, I opt for natural sources of Vitamin C such as fruits and vegetables. Oh and did you say strawberries contains more vitamin C than oranges? That’s great because I do not like oranges so much so strawberries, although they are generally more expensive than oranges, are a a better option.

    On the other hand, I was advised to take iron supplements because of my low hemoglobin. I don’t know why but it never crossed my mind to ask my doctor if I could take both vitamin C and Iron together. Now that I know vitamin c helps in iron absorption, I will make sure to take my iron supplements along with orange juice.

    By the way, should I choose to go with natural sources of iron, what foods should I eat? Maybe, instead of taking them in pill or capsule form, I should just eat vitamin C-rich foods and iron-rich foods together. What do you think?

    1. John Guiles says:

      If you can manage to get your vitamin C in naturally, you’d not only be getting your nutrients but you’d be eating healthfully. That’s always the way to go, to intentionally choose your foods.

      Remember that the vitamin C really only helps with non-heme sources of iron like that found in nuts and plants (And supplements). There are good, fruit flavored vitamin C with Iron chewables out there, which are mostly taken by people with Iron deficiency or who have undergone bariatric weight loss surgery. But anyone can take them.

      Thanks for the comment!

  18. Barry says:

    Hello there. Thank you for sharing this information with us. I have learnt a lot about vitamin c and iron in this post. I thought iron can only be obtained from plants like plantains. That was the only source of iron I’m aware of. Great to know about other sources from both plants and animals and the two different types.

    Good to know that strawberries have 100% per serving of vitamin C.

    1. John Guiles says:

      Hey Barry! There’s a new on on me! I had no idea plantains had iron. I thought they had mostly potassium. I hope I don’t have to stop eating bananas!

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