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Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Iron is an essential element of human life. I think it’s time for it to get a little of the spotlight. Step aside magnesium and zinc; it's iron's time to shine.

Red Blood Cells Iron

This article is pretty long, so if you don't feel like reading it and just want to know which iron supplement we recommend, click here.

  • Growth and development

  • To make hemoglobin.

    • Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin is a protein that provides oxygen to muscles.

  • To make some hormones.

RDA Iron

Those amounts are based on heme iron, the iron found in meat. If getting iron from plant foods, non-heme, nearly double the amount is needed because of the reduced absorption of iron from plant sources.

What happens if we do not get enough iron in our diet?

According to the NIH:

In the short term, getting too little iron does not cause obvious symptoms. The body uses its stored iron in the muscles, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. But when levels of iron stored in the body become low, iron deficiency anemia sets in. Red blood cells become smaller and contain less hemoglobin. As a result, blood carries less oxygen from the lungs throughout the body.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include GI upset, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, and problems with concentration and memory. In addition, people with iron deficiency anemia are less able to fight off germs and infections, work and exercise, and control their body temperature. Infants and children with iron deficiency anemia might develop learning difficulties.

Iron deficiency is not uncommon in the United States, especially among young children, women under 50, and pregnant women. It can also occur in people who do not eat meat, poultry, or seafood; lose blood; have GI diseases that interfere with nutrient absorption; or eat poor diets.

Tired Cat

Get this cat some iron!

Anemia is a common health condition related to iron deficiency. However, most people are not aware that there are multiple types of anemia:

  • Aplastic Anemia

    • Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. The condition leaves you fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding.

  • Iron-deficiency Anemia

    • The blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body's tissues. This is caused by a lack of iron.

  • Sickle Cell Anemia

    • Sickle cell anemia is one of a group of disorders known as sickle cell disease. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.

    • Normally, the flexible, round red blood cells move easily through blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the red blood is shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These rigid, sticky cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.

  • Thalassemia (thal-uh-SEE-me-uh)

    • An inherited blood disorder that causes your body to have less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen. Thalassemia can cause anemia, leaving you fatigued.

  • Vitamin Deficiency Anemia, sometimes called megaloblastic anemia

    • A lack of healthy red blood cells is caused when you have lower than normal amounts of certain vitamins. Vitamins linked to vitamin deficiency anemia include folate, vitamin B-12, and vitamin C.

  • Macrocytic Anemia

    • A type of anemia that causes unusually large red blood cells.

There are two types of iron, non-heme which is found in plant foods, dairy, and eggs, and heme which is found in meat (meat also contains very small amounts of non-heme iron).

Heme iron is absorbed at two or more times the rate of non-heme iron. So the best source of dietary iron is meat products.

The Red Cross has a wonderful page where you can see foods that are rich in iron and how much each food has.

Since heme iron is absorbed at two or more times the rate of non-heme iron, the best source of dietary iron is meat. When getting iron from plant foods, make sure to eat it with vitamin c rich foods like citrus fruits in order to help increase the absorption. Heme iron absorption is not affected by vitamin C.

Grass-Fed Beef Liver Iron

Eating lots of grass-fed liver and beef spleen is the fastest way to improve your iron levels.

Getting iron from food is the best way to ensure that your body has what it needs to be healthy. Due to health issues or some life circumstances, many people are not able to get enough in their diet. In that case, most people often turn to iron supplements or, in severe cases, iron transfusions.

Here is the thing about iron supplements, though, to put it bluntly, they suck.

Check out this list of side effects from iron supplements:

  • Constipation

  • Contact irritation

  • Diarrhea

  • Dark stools

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) hemorrhage (rare)

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) irritation

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction (wax matrix products; rare)

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) perforation (rare)

  • Nausea

  • Stomach pain

  • Superficial tooth discoloration (oral solutions)

  • Urine discoloration

  • Vomiting

Many of you who have tried iron pills in past can attest to many of these lovely effects. In addition to having all of those side effects, most iron supplements are just not very effective.

The most commonly used iron supplement is called ferrous sulfate. It is often given at a dosage of 325 mg. However, each one of these pills actually only contains 65 mg of elemental iron. Iron labels are often very confusing. The total weight of the compound is 325 mg, but the weight of the amount of iron it contains is 65 mg. Usually, on the back or side panel of the product, you will be able to see this:

Ferrous Sulfate iron tablets 325 mg

As you can see from the label front, it says 325 mg, but in the supplement facts panel, it says 65 mg.

Non-heme chelates such as gluconate, citrate, chelate, glycinate (also known as bis-glycinate), fumarate, and others. These are made by binding or reacting iron to or with various compounds such as citric acid (ferrous citrate), gluconic acid (ferrous gluconate), fumaric acid (ferrous fumarate), the amino acid glycine (ferrous bis-glycinate), and others.

Polysaccharide-bound irons such as IPC (iron polysaccharide complex) are made by binding iron to various long-chain starches. Yes, that is a simplification, but do you really want a whole chemistry lesson?

Protein-bound iron, such as IPS (iron protein succinylate), or rice protein chelate, is made by binding iron to a protein such as casein (a protein found in milk) or rice protein.

Heme iron supplements such as heme iron polypeptide (HIP) are derived from the blood hemoglobin of conventionally raised cows and pigs. These are not whole food iron supplements as just select compounds have been taken from the blood hemoglobin. It is not simply dried blood as it is often marketed to be.

Fake whole food iron supplements are a bit hard to pin down because they can take so many forms, but generally, they fall into three different categories.

The first is made by feeding certain types of non-heme iron, such as ferrous sulfate or ferrous bis-glycinate, to yeast. They claim this makes the supplements more absorbable or more effective, but they offer no proof of this other than the occasional really poorly done "study." Feeding a non-heme iron to yeast does not suddenly change it into a whole food or make it better a better form of iron. This is just marketing BS.

The second category of fake whole food iron supplements is those that contain a traditional iron supplement such as ferrous sulfate or ferrous bis-glycinate and are mixed with small amounts of food or herbs. There is nothing wrong with selling these formulas. It is only wrong when companies try to convince people they are whole food using misleading marketing or packaging. Nearly all of the time, these foods are in such small amounts, they exist only to make the label look good. You will often see these foods plastered all over the label even if they are just there in tiny amounts. You will often see phrases like food-based, whole food-based, whole food, or raw. Those phrases have no regulation on them, so they can be put on a product no matter what is them.

The third type of fake whole food iron supplements are those that claim to be derived from a particular food, but that food has little to no iron, so it could not be made from that food.

You can read more in-depth about the various kinds of fake whole food supplements on the market here.

False advertising is wrong, and it is a real shame that companies, websites, and stores have embraced these completely misleading products in order to make a quick buck. Instead of giving people what they actually want, they would rather make a quick buck and sell them cheap imitations. While fake whole food supplements are the best selling (because people, and rightfully so, want whole food supplements) and the highest profit margin products in the supplement industry, Rooted Nutrition takes a strong stand against fake whole food supplements and will never sell them.

The last type of iron supplement is a true whole-food iron supplement. These could be non-heme or heme. They could be made from a variety of plant or animal foods. A true whole food iron supplement will be the whole foods, properly low temperature dried, sometimes concentrated and sometimes not, then ground and put into a pill. Nothing is added, and nothing is taken away. This is the way all whole-food supplements should be made.

Questions about iron supplements

This article is getting long can you tell us which one to take?

When looking for an iron supplement, we wanted it to contain multiple things in order to help nourish the body and improve the health of those taking it. Here are some things that we at Rooted Nutrition were looking for when we began our search for our ideal iron formula:

  • Not have the traditional side effects associated with iron supplements.

  • Be a true 100% whole-food iron supplement. Humans have evolved to get nutrition from food, not ground-up rocks.

  • Be 100% heme iron or as close to 100% as possible. Heme iron is simply more absorbable and more effective than non-heme iron.

  • Not just contain heme iron but also contain the other nutrients and co-factors, in their most absorbable and effective forms, needed for healthy blood and body. Including but not limited to:

    • Folate (B9) (as folate, not folic acid, which can mask b-12 deficiency, certain types of anemia, and its symptoms)

      • It is needed to synthesize red blood cells.

    • Cobalamin (B12) (not cyanocobalamin)

      • It is needed to synthesize red blood cells.

    • Riboflavin (B2)

      • It helps the body to absorb iron and tell it where to go (not the precise scientific terms, but an easy way to explain it).

      • It helps to build red blood cells.

    • Vitamin A (as retinol, not beta-carotene)

      • It helps with the assimilation and absorption of minerals.

    • Choline

      • It helps to reduce the side effects of iron deficiency.

      • Acts as a methyl donor in the methylation cycle.

  • Be effective at improving the quality of life for those who need it.

  • Be sourced in an ethical, sustainable, and environmentally friendly manner.

Until recently, we did not really have a product that met all of these criteria. We were constantly having to come up with regimens or use formulas that simply could not provide a truly effective product without having a lot of side effects or having to compromise on the sourcing of it. Being forced to settle like this is not something I was very happy about. Despite searching for what seemed like hundreds of hours, we were unable to locate, for lack of a better term, a proper blood-building formula. Unfortunately, there just was not anything that checked all the boxes.

My first question is always about the product's sourcing and quality control. All of the ingredients for this product come from a group of small family farms in the Lake Eyre region of Australia. This group of farmers practices regenerative agriculture. That was really great to hear because we already source a lot of products with ingredients from that region, so we were very familiar with the area and the farms. So it definitely checked our first box for sourcing and quality control.

Secondly, we wanted to check on the processing to ensure that it was going to be a properly made whole-food supplement. Each ingredient is freeze-dried, ground into a powder, and put into a capsule. Nothing is taken away, and nothing is added. This is exactly what we want to see in a whole-food product. So it definitely checked our second box for being a true whole-food supplement.

Third, we wanted to know the ingredients of the product and whether they would supply all of the nutrients we were looking for to get a complete blood-building formula. After being sent the ingredients, I was very excited to find that they had concentrated sources of each nutrient we were looking for and more in the forms we were looking for as well. So it definitely checked our third box for a great, comprehensive formula.

Iron Supplement Checklist

It's always nice when all the boxes get checked.

So what are the ingredients in this incredible supplement?

  • Grass-Fed Beef Liver

    • Rich in b12, choline, riboflavin, folate, riboflavin (b2), vitamin A, vitamin K2 (as MK-4), and many other nutrients and supportive compounds.

  • Grass-Fed Beef Blood

  • Blood is rich in coq10, b12, riboflavin, vitamin D3, and heme iron.

  • Grass-Fed Beef Spleen

    • Rich in b-12, niacin, potassium, and many other nutrients and supportive compounds. Spleen actually contains 5x more heme iron than liver does. It also contains vitamin C.

While they might not sound delicious, these foods are incredibly nourishing. Around the world, cultures have prized these foods for their incredible nutrient density. There are no better foods to get the job done.

There is simply no other formula like it on the market. No other blood-building formula can even come close to providing this level of awesome sauce.

I am so excited to announce this incredible product, whole blood.

It is very rare to hear me say this, but I truly believe that this product is going to be life-changing for so many people.

Now is the time to stop settling and suffering from inferior, side-effect-laden iron products. Now is the time to experience the energy and vitality that a true whole-food blood-building supplement can provide.

Whole Food Iron Supplement ingredients

Cows on one of the farms the ingredients are sourced from.


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