Uh oh, scientists say that certain iron supplements can lead to colon cancer

Thursday, September 13, 2018 by

Taking iron supplements is well and good, especially for women. But as it turns out, not all supplements are created equal, as some may actually do more harm than good. Researchers from Sweden and the U.K. found that two iron compounds, used commonly in iron supplements and additives, can increase the biomarkers for colon cancer, suggesting a link to the deadly disease.

Researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, in collaboration with the UK Medical Research Council and Cambridge University, found that two iron compounds – ferric citrate and ferric EDTA – could increase the production of amphiregulin, a biomarker for colon cancer. Colon cancer is a deadly disease, with the American Cancer Society predicting 50,630 deaths from the disease this year in the U.S. alone.

They compared the effects of both compounds with those of ferrous sulfate, another commonly used compound in iron dietary supplements, on two types of cultured human colon cancer cells. Ferrous sulfate exhibited no effect whatsoever, while both ferric citrate and ferric EDTA led to increases in amphiregulin. The effect was noted even at very low doses of the two compounds.

Ferric citrate is one of several iron compounds used in dietary supplements. It is a popular alternative to ferrous sulfate because it is gentler on the stomach and is more easily absorbed by the body. Ferric EDTA is incorporated into various food items, such as flour and powdered drinks, as a fortifying agent. Today, it is used in a number of countries, including the U.S., China, Mexico, the Philippines, and several European states. In the U.K. and France, for instance, it is added to children’s medicine to combat iron deficiency.

According to Nathalie Scheers, the lead author of the study, it can be hard for most consumers to know if their iron supplement is safe for them. This is because most stores, even pharmacies, do not indicate which iron compounds are on their shelves.

“Usually it just says ‘iron’ or ‘iron mineral,’ which is problematic for consumers,” she says.

She admits that their study has its limitations, one of which is that it was conducted only on lab-cultured cancer cells. She clarified, however, that while the study may not reveal the exact effects of the compounds on entire the human body, the mechanisms it unveils is still worthy of caution.

Although iron deficiency can occur to anyone, women are at greater risk and as such, are in greater danger from the effects of these carcinogenic iron compounds. This is because women tend to lose a lot of iron, especially during menstruation and pregnancy, and must often depend on iron supplements to obtain the minerals they can’t get from just their diet. (Related: Boost your iron levels with good nutrition and proper supplementation.)

The study was published in the journal Oncotarget.

Natural sources of iron

As a mineral, iron performs several important roles. It is crucial to the production of red blood cells and to the delivery of oxygen to different parts of the body. In fact, iron is so important that its interaction with oxygen is the primary reason for blood’s distinct red color.

Needless to say, there is no better source of iron than food. Here are some of the most iron-rich food items you must have in your diet:

  • Shellfish – All types of shellfish contain high levels of iron, but clams, mussels, and oysters are the best of the bunch. Like other animal sources of iron, shellfish contain heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body. This is compared to the non-heme iron found in plants.
  • Spinach – This leafy vegetable is one of the richest sources of iron among plants. It contains non-heme iron, which isn’t easily absorbed but makes up for it with its abundant vitamin C content. Vitamin C is known to boost the absorption of iron in the body.
  • Organ meats – Liver, kidneys, heart, and brain are great sources of iron, as well as a wide variety of other health-giving nutrients.
  • Dark chocolate – This treat actually has plenty of health benefits, including a rich iron content. It is also a good source of prebiotic fiber and antioxidants.

Learn which substances to avoid to lower the risk of cancer at Cancer.news.

Sources include:

Chalmers.se

Cancer.org

Healthline.com



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