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Dont Take IRON if You Are Getting Sick

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/14/2024

Iron Supplements Sickness: Risks and Safe Alternatives

You should avoid excess iron intake when you are sick. While vital for health, this essential mineral can also have unintended consequences when consumed excessively or under certain conditions.

Learn about the dual nature of iron in human health and how it interacts with beneficial and pathogenic bacteria. Also, understand why you should avoid excess iron intake when sick, shedding light on the protective mechanism of ferritin storage and risks associated with overconsumption during illness.

Friend or Foe?

While essential to our bodies, iron can be detrimental if consumed excessively. Learn about the distinctly different roles iron can play in managing your health.

The Good: Iron's Role in Our Body

Iron helps produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout our body. It also creates hormones and connective tissue.

The Bad: Too Much Iron Can Be Dangerous

Too much iron can lead to hemochromatosis, which can damage our organs. Iron has a unique smell, and eating iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements can make your poop smell metallic or even blood-like

The Ugly: Iron's Relationship with Bacteria

Bacteria, both good and bad, need iron to survive. Some harmful bacteria even steal iron from our bodies during infections.

Managing our iron intake can be tricky, especially when we're sick, and we must prioritize our resources. So, let's enjoy our iron-rich foods in moderation to keep illness in check.

Why You Should Avoid Iron When Sick

Feeling sick? Skip the iron. While it's crucial for our bodies, extra iron intake during illness can be counterproductive.

The Protective Mechanism of Ferritin Storage

Ferritin stores iron and acts as a protective mechanism when we get sick. By limiting iron availability in the bloodstream, ferritin helps prevent disease-causing microbes from thriving.

However, consuming additional iron while ill could feed harmful bacteria instead of starving them off.

Risks Associated with Excess Iron Consumption When Unwell

Taking extra iron when sick undermines your body's natural defenses and poses other risks. For instance, excessive free iron levels have been linked with increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and disease progression in certain conditions like infections or cancer.

  • Oxidative Stress: Occurs when there's an imbalance between free radical and antioxidant activity in your body. An imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body may cause cellular and tissue harm.

  • Inflammation: High levels of circulating free iron have also been associated with inflammation - another factor that can exacerbate illness symptoms.

  • Disease Progression: Some studies suggest excess dietary or supplemental iron may contribute to disease progression in certain conditions like infections or cancer.

Avoiding high-iron foods and supplements might be beneficial during sickness periods, especially considering how easy it is for most people to meet their daily recommended intake without supplementation.

Identifying High-Iron Foods and Supplements

When sick, food can be your friend or foe. Some foods and supplements are high in iron, which can worsen your condition. Here's how to spot them:

Common High-Iron Foods to Avoid

Healthy foods can be unhealthy when sick due to their high iron content. These include:

  • Red Meat: Beef, lamb, and pork are all rich in heme iron, which our bodies absorb readily.

  • Poultry & Seafood: Chicken, turkey, and fish like tuna or salmon contain significant amounts of heme iron.

  • Lentils & Beans: Lentils and beans provide non-heme iron, which is less readily absorbed but contributes to total dietary intake.

  • Nuts & Seeds: Cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and others have considerable amounts of non-heme iron too.

You don't need to eliminate these foods; reduce portion sizes or frequency until fully recovered.

Reading Supplement Labels for Hidden Sources of Iron

Over-the-counter supplements can also contribute significantly to daily dietary intake without us realizing it. Here's what to look for:

  • Multivitamins often include minerals such as iron and vitamin A-Z for overall health support.

  • Prenatal vitamins frequently have higher levels of iron, given their importance during pregnancy.

  • Iron-specific tablets or capsules are meant primarily for those diagnosed with deficiency conditions.

  • Certain protein powders marketed towards athletes sometimes add extra nutrients, including iron, for enhanced performance benefits.

Avoiding unnecessary supplementation helps prevent excessive consumption, inadvertently feeding disease-causing microbes within our body rather than fighting them off.

Healthy Habits for Managing Illness

Iron is essential, but too much can feed disease-causing microbes. Luckily, there are safer alternatives that support immunity without encouraging microbial growth.

Immunity-Boosting Nutrients

A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients strengthens the body's defenses against harmful pathogens without promoting their growth like excess iron might.

  • Vitamin C: Stimulates white blood cell production to fight infections. It is found in broccoli.

  • Zinc: Aids cell division and growth while having an anti-inflammatory effect. Found in oysters, beef, and pumpkin seeds.

  • Selenium: Boosts defense against bacterial and viral infections. It is found in Brazil nuts, seafood, turkey, and chicken.

These nutrients not only support immune function during sickness but also aid recovery.

Woman eating vegetables

Dietary Changes for Better Health

During sickness, nutritional changes can enhance overall health status:

  • Eat Whole Foods: Unprocessed or minimally processed foods contain more natural nutrients than heavily processed ones.

  • Maintain Hydration: Staying hydrated helps maintain bodily functions. Consume eight glasses of H2O daily or more if experiencing signs of dehydration such as fever, perspiration, vomiting, looseness of the bowels, or other symptoms.

  • Cut Back On Sugar: Sugar lacks nutritional value and weakens the immune response by reducing the white blood cell activity necessary to fight infection. Limit consumption of sugary drinks, snacks, and desserts, particularly when under the weather.

Advise a medical specialist before adjusting your diet or taking dietary supplements to ensure safety and efficiency.


Understanding iron's dual nature helps you make informed choices about your health.

While iron is a crucial nutrient for your body's regular functions, too much can be harmful when ill.

Always boost your immunity when healthy with iron-rich foods or dietary changes instead of iron supplements.

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