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Dear Dietitian – How is iron-deficiency anemia treated?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

My teenage daughter was recently diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia. She follows a vegan diet and has been taking a vegan supplement. Are these as good as regular iron pills?


Dear Mom,

It is not uncommon for women of childbearing age to become iron deficient, especially if they have heavy menstrual periods. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States. (1) The RDA is 15 mg per day for women 14-18 years of age, 18 mg for women 19-50 years old, and 8 mg for men 19 years and older.

Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to our organs and tissues. If there is not enough iron in our bodies, there is insufficient oxygen flowing throughout, and we may become tired and weak.

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Iron is plentiful in our food supply, and it is found in two forms. Heme iron comes from animal products, such as beef, poultry, and fish. Non-heme sources are found both in animal products and plant foods. Examples of non-heme iron are beans, spinach, and dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, and prunes. Breakfast cereals, as well as flour and bread are fortified with iron. It is estimated that our bodies absorb heme iron two to three times more efficiently than non-heme. The amount of iron absorption is dependent on how much the body needs, and vitamin C aids in this process. If excessive amounts of iron are consumed, it will be excreted in the feces. 

Most iron supplements are made in a laboratory and consist of an iron salt, such as iron gluconate or iron sulfate. However, there are various types of supplements, including vegan, to fit your lifestyle. Remember, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so know what you are buying. The label should list what type of iron is in the product. For example, ironas iron amino acid chelate, or frommurraya koenigii, or asiron sulfate. Only the supplement from murraya koenigii is made from a plant; the other two are formed in a lab.

In a product developed by Albert Schmidbauer and Dr. Christina Leisser, iron was extracted from curry leaves (murraya koenigii) and made into a supplement. Absorption rates of murraya koenigii were compared to that of iron gluconate + vitamin C. The iron in the form of murraya koenigii was absorbed at rate 18% higher than the iron gluconate + vitamin C. (2)

In summary, iron deficiency anemia is easily treated. Our food supply is rich in iron-containing foods, and there are many types of supplements on the market to fit your lifestyle. Any supplement from a trusted manufacturer should be sufficient to increase iron levels, some more efficiently than others. 


 (1), (2)

In good health,

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at