Does Coffee Interfere With Iron Absorption?

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Which will you choose, something you want or something you need?

Well, coffee lovers, here’s something that you definitely will not like: coffee interferes with iron absorption

Before you flip your tables at this exaggerated dilemma, let’s have a little tour on what iron does for our bodies.

Iron is a mineral that our bodies need for many functions. One of its most important functions is to help transport oxygen all throughout our body.

As we all know, lack of oxygen can cause mild to severe symptoms.

Iron is also keeps our cells, hair, nails, and skin healthy.

Coffee drinkers may claim that they need the beverage. I understand, it has become a part of your lifestyle and not drinking it in the morning makes you feel like there is something missing.

Well, to be more precise, it is not just coffee. Some sources claim that caffeine is associated with 39-90% reduction in iron absorption. However, caffeine is not just the culprit. Both coffee and tea have polyphenols, which give the two drinks their antioxidant properties. These polyphenols are thought to be the major inhibitors of iron absorption by binding with them during digestion.

Don’t worry, though, because these compounds only bind with iron when they are taken at the same time with the iron-containing food. So maybe you can drink coffee or tea at least an hour before meals. That way, polyphenols will not have anything to latch themselves to and the iron you consumed will be absorbed better.

[2] Does Decaffeinated Coffee Hinder Iron Absorption

Different sources, on the other hand, state that caffeine has nothing to do with iron absorption. They say that only polyphenols are responsible for inhibiting iron absorption. Therefore, switching to decaf coffee won’t really make a difference.

In addition, only those with iron deficiency are the only ones strictly advised to avoid coffee or tea.

Whether caffeine really inhibits iron absorption or not, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So for those with no problems regarding their iron, go back to enjoying that delicious drink. May I remind you, though, that too much of everything is still unhealthy.

[3] Does herbal tea affect iron absorption?

To every tea lover out there, here’s some news for you too: even herbal tea may inhibit iron absorption.

Herbal teas can contain tannins. This is a compound that is said to inhibit iron absorption by binding to non-heme iron, which I will further discuss later.

The amount of tannins found in a tea depends on many factors such as the variety, growing condition, and processing method.

Black tea is one of the major sources of tannin in our diet and more is known about its effects on iron absorption. However, here are some herbs and spices that contain tannin:

Just like with coffee lovers, those who prefer tea don’t necessarily need to give up their tea. Because even if they contain tannins that inhibit iron absorption, as long as your iron levels are within the normal range, you’re good to go.

 [4] What nutrients does caffeine deplete?

Caffeine is a mild stimulant found not just in coffee but also in teas, colas, and even chocolate. While it can give us an energy boost, caffeine can negatively affect our health if it is not consumed in moderation.

It is a good antioxidant but it can also cause nutrient depletion of important nutrients, like vitamin B6, and interfere with nutrient absorption of essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins. Studies have found caffeine consumption is associated with reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although the mechanisms are unclear.

However, sensitive sub-populations, including pregnant women, children and older individuals, and those with a history of heart disease, may experience effects at lower levels of caffeine and should limit their consumption to three cups of coffee per day, or no more than 300 mg/ day, to avoid adverse effects. 

[5] What foods and drinks is iron found in?

Our bodies can only store iron, but not make it. Here is a list of foods that are good sources of this mineral:

Animal-based foods are the best sources of iron, especially red meat and offal. Others include chicken, duck, pork, turkey and eggs.

For vegans or vegetarians, here are some plant-based foods where you can get iron: green vegetables like spinach, silverbeet and broccoli, lentils and beans, nuts and seeds, grains like whole wheat, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals, and dried fruit.

[6] Why is iron important to the body?

As stated above, iron has many functions in our body such as delivering oxygen in our body and keeping our cells, nails, hair and skin healthy.

But did you know that there are two types of iron in our food?

The first is the Heme Iron which is found in meat, poultry and seafood. It has a much higher absorption rate (15-35%) because it is absorbed intact and not influenced by other dietary factors.

Next, we have the Non-heme Iron which is from plant-based foods. Unlike heme iron, this one only has a 2-20% absorption rate and can even be affected by other food or drinks that we consume.

[7] What happens if we have too little iron?

Iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Here are ten signs and symptoms of iron deficiency:

1. Unusual tiredness. Low iron levels will result in low oxygen being delivered to our muscles, depriving them of energy.

2.    Paleness in general or in other body parts like face, nails and lower eyelids. Little iron results in decreased haemoglobin, which gives blood its red color. This is a sign of moderate to severe iron deficiency.

3.    Shortness of breath. This is due to lack of oxygen in the body.

4.    Headaches and dizziness. No, it is not because of your annoying co-worker or your kid throwing a tantrum. Decreased iron equals less oxygen. This results in the swelling of blood vessels and pressure.

5.    Heart palpitations. Due to lack of oxygen, the heart works harder to transport oxygen to the body. Suffering from iron deficiency for a long time can also lead to heart murmurs and enlarged heart.

6.    Dry and damaged hair and skin. Limited oxygen is delivered to more important parts like organs instead of hair and skin. This causes them to dry and in severe cases, hair loss may also be experienced.

7.    Sore, swollen or strangely smooth tongue. This is a sign of iron-deficiency anemia.

8.    Restless leg syndrome or a strong urge to move the legs at rest. The cause of this is not fully known but 25% of people with this are thought to have iron-deficiency anemia.

9.    Koilonychia or brittle or spoon-shaped fingernails. This is only seen in severe cases. But it usually starts with brittle nails that chip and crack easily.

10.  Other generic signs of iron deficiency may include: strange food cravings, feeling anxious, cold hands and feet, and increased risk of infection. ‘

Some of us may experience these symptoms even without having iron deficiency so don’t jump to conclusions and worry yourself over nothing. If you think you have iron deficiency, consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and correct treatment. Prevention is also better than cure so start eating healthy, iron-rich food.

 [8] How long does it take for iron levels to drop?

Most of the body’s iron stores are within the haemoglobin of red blood cells, and carry oxygen to the body. Extra iron is stored within the liver and is used during times when dietary intake is inadequate.

If your need for dietary iron isn’t met, your body’s iron stores will decline over time.

There are three stages that you will go through:

1. Iron depletion – haemoglobin levels are normal, but the body only has a small amount of stored iron, which will soon run out. This stage usually has no obvious symptoms.

2. Iron deficiency – stored and blood-borne iron stores are low and haemoglobin levels have dropped below normal. You may experience some symptoms, including tiredness.

3. Iron deficiency anaemia – haemoglobin levels are so low that the blood is unable to deliver enough oxygen to the cells. Symptoms include looking very pale, breathlessness, dizziness and fatigue. Reduced immune function and impaired growth and cognition can also be symptoms.

Iron levels drop depending on the following factors or causes:

·         Inadequate dietary intake –There are many reasons why the dietary intake of iron could be inadequate, including a poorly balanced vegetarian diet, chronic fad dieting or limited access to a wide range of fresh foods – for example, as a result of living in remote areas or having a low income.

·         Blood loss – iron deficiency easily occurs in situations of chronic blood loss. Common causes include heavy menstrual periods, regular blood donation, regular nosebleeds, chronic disorders that involve bleeding (such as peptic ulcers, polyps or cancers in the large intestine) and certain medications, particularly aspirin.

·         Increased need – the adolescent growth spurt, pregnancy and breastfeeding are situations when the body requires more iron. If this increased need isn’t met, a deficiency can quickly occur.

·         Exercise – athletes are prone to iron deficiency because regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron in a number of ways. For example, hard training promotes red blood cell production, while iron is lost through sweating.

·         Inability to absorb iron – healthy adults absorb about ten to 15 per cent of dietary iron, but some people’s bodies are unable to absorb or use iron from food.