Iron Supplements and Senior Citizens

Q. I would like to know why multivitamin/multimineral supplements for people over 50 — women as well as men — contain no iron. Don’t those of us over age 50 still need iron?

A. Although iron is an essential element for the human body, requirements for iron change with age. The recommended daily allowance for iron for adults over age 50 is 8 milligrams per day, regardless of sex. In comparison, the RDA for women during their child-bearing years is 18 milligrams per day.

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Since iron can be obtained from a variety of foods, including animal and plant products, eating a well-balanced diet helps to ensure adequate iron intake. Iron supplementation is generally only recommended if someone is at risk of iron deficiency, which is not as common in the latter stages of life. People with kidney failure who are receiving dialysis and those who are unable to absorb iron from dietary sources due to certain gastrointestinal disorders may need supplementation with iron.

Too much iron can be detrimental, though, leading to seizures, coma, and, in severe cases, death. Very little iron is actually eliminated from the body, so it’s very important to be cautious. Due to the risks of iron toxicity, supplementation is recommended only if advised or prescribed by a health-care professional.

Want to learn more about iron and diabetes? Read “Ironing It Out: Linking Diabetes With Iron Intake” and “The Nuts and Bolts of Dietary Iron.”