Is Too Much Iron Dangerous?

pregnant mother and young boy preparing fruit for a smoothie

By Rhianna Ross, RHN

Iron is an essential nutrient that is needed at all life stages. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.

Despite the importance of adequate iron stores and the frequency of deficiency, there is apprehension regarding iron supplementation due to fears of overload or toxicity.

At what point does iron become dangerous? Let’s take a closer look.

The Importance of Iron

Iron is important to many functions in the body, from the manufacturing of hormones to supplying the body with energy and oxygen needed for growth and development.

Healthy iron levels are especially important for pregnant women, growing children, and teens. It is crucial during early development, before pregnancy, in the womb, and during infancy. Iron deficiency during times of growth and development can cause lasting abnormalities.

Untreated iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia can cause many unpleasant symptoms. 

Where Do We Get Iron?

We get iron from two forms found in our diets. Non-heme iron is found in plants and animals, while heme iron is found only in animal foods. Of the two forms, heme iron is much easier for the human body to absorb. For this reason, vegans and vegetarians are at an increased risk of iron deficiency.

Other groups that are at an increased risk of low iron and iron anemia are those with digestive disorders such as Crohn’s, colitis, or celiac disease. This is because they can have difficulty absorbing the iron in food.

Is Iron Toxic?

Iron poisoning and iron overload are serious health conditions that can harm your health and, in some cases, can be fatal. However, it is important to understand the causes of overload and risk factors.

Iron Poisoning

Iron poisoning occurs when a large amount of iron is taken in a short period of time. When this occurs in children it is often because the child has ingested an adult product that is very high in iron. It is much less likely for children to overdose on a children’s formula as there is typically not enough iron in it to cause serious harm.

Iron poisoning in adults is much less common.

The level of toxicity is dependent on the amount of elemental iron consumed.

“Ingestion of less than 20 mg/kg of elemental iron is non-toxic. Ingestion of 20 mg/kg to 60 mg/kg results in moderate symptoms. Ingestion of more than 60 mg/kg can result in severe toxicity and lead to severe morbidity and mortality. The amount of elemental iron ingested is different depending on the formulations of iron salts.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459224/

To reach the 20 mg/kg threshold, a 30 kg child would need to consume 600 mg of elemental iron, in one sitting or a short time period, which is the equivalent of 2 full bottles of our BioFe Iron Sweet Blast chewable tablets, or 1 full bottle of our 10 mg grape chewable iron tablets.

To prevent iron poisoning in children, keep all iron-containing supplements out of reach. This is especially important for adult supplements including prenatal and multivitamins containing iron.

Iron Overload

Iron overload occurs when our bodies’ ferritin levels are so high they are no longer in the healthy range. Generally, this is when ferritin is higher than 200 for women, or 300 for men. Prolonged high levels of iron in the body can be harmful. Very high levels of ferritin can be due to serious health conditions such as renal or liver disease, certain cancers, or high inflammation levels, and not due to iron intake.

There are certain genetic conditions that can increase the risk of iron overload. These conditions include hemochromatosis, sickle cell disease, and thalassemia.

Did You Know?

In a healthy person, the body can increase or decrease iron absorption as the body requires.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition where the body’s ability to regulate iron absorption is compromised. This leads to excess iron being absorbed and can eventually lead to iron overload. It is estimated that 1 in 300 Canadians suffer from this condition. For hemochromatosis to occur, a child needs to inherit one defective gene from each parent. Inheriting only one defective gene makes a person a carrier, but they will rarely develop the disorder.

High iron in other conditions such as thalassaemia are often due to iron transfusions necessary to treat the condition.

For children without the above-mentioned genetic conditions, the daily maintenance dose of a child’s iron supplement is not enough to risk iron poisoning or iron overload even after long term use.

For both children and adults, prolonged use of high therapeutic doses of iron could eventually lead to iron overload.

Maintenance vs. Therapeutic Dosing

A maintenance dose of iron, which is what is recommended on supplement labels, helps to prevent iron deficiency.

For children and adults with iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, the daily maintenance dose is not enough to raise iron levels. In these cases, consultation with a health care provider is necessary to determine a therapeutic dose.

Follow up testing is then needed to ensure levels are rising. Once levels reach an optimal level, iron dosing can be lowered to a maintenance dose to help prevent future deficiencies.

If you suspect an iron deficiency, a blood panel test is the best way to confirm.

KidStar® BioFe® Iron

KidStar® BioFe® is gentle and will not upset sensitive stomachs or stain teeth like common iron supplements. BioFe+ Iron Liquid is safe for the whole family, from infancy to adulthood.

The iron in BioFe is micronized and microencapsulated, protecting you from the side effects of iron, like constipation, tummy upset, and grey teeth. Microencapsulation also allows BioFe iron to be taken at the same time as foods and nutrients containing calcium.

Like all KidStar nutrients, our iron supplements do not contain sugar, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavours, soy, gluten and GMOs. KidStar BioFe Iron is available in a tasty liquid, unflavoured liquid drops and a tiny chewable tablet.

Find iron products here

 

Gentle, unflavoured, pure iron drops in an MCT base.

BioFe® Pure Iron Drops

$30.50

(7 customer reviews)

 

Iron for the Family Bundle

Iron for the Family Bundle

$73.10

(Save 15%)

 

Gentle, delicious, iron liquid formula for toddlers, children, and older.

BioFe+® Iron Liquid

$36.50

(4 customer reviews)
cartoon image of Rhianna Ross

About the Author

Rhianna Ross, R.H.N., is a registered holistic nutritionist based in Vancouver, BC. Rhianna has more than a decade of experience in the natural health and wellness industry, and currently works at KidStar Nutrients, where she enjoys reviewing and analyzing the latest nutritional research papers, meta-analyses, and journal articles.