Yet another super-helpful part of Iron-Land has been mapped!!  Ever struggled to correct chronic iron deficiency in athletes or even just weekend warriors?  Yep, me too. One of the key barriers being the 2-3 fold rise in hepcidin in response to exercise. Hepcidin whose day job is an inflammatory signal that two-times as an iron uptake blocking agent at the small intestine.  In addition to other exercise-induced factors that either reduce Fe uptake or increase losses, it really is no surprise that these cases can be hard to treat. However, a recently published small Australian study has brought to light some constructive new information. Similar to the often talked about ‘anabolic window of opportunity’ whereby we encourage people to consume protein +/- CHOs within a short time-frame post-exercise to optimise exercise outcomes and negate negatives, these new findings imply the same might be true for optimal Iron uptake. But only in relation to exercise done in the morning! 

The key finding was when individuals consumed iron after 90mins of exercise in the morning they exhibited higher uptake than both when they took the iron at the same time but didn’t exercise beforehand or took it after exercising at night.

This is a game-changer for potentially ALL our patients who struggle with iron absorption.  With the key take-home being…not just take your iron preferably in the morning which we already know (when hepcidin is naturally lower as part of its diurnal rhythm) but before you pop that pill, pop on your sneakers and get busy sweating! How on earth might this be working?  Well this study demonstrated that while hepcidin rises after exercise typically for up to 6hrs…it is not yet ‘up’ and blocking within the first hour – gotcha! But why would this mean an even greater uptake compared with the same iron at the same time in the same individual…but a resting version of themselves?  Because exercise may in fact cause a transient leaky gut post exercise & enhanced nutrient uptake may be its silver lining!  A small study that actually punches above its weight, this one is worth the read – via a great comprehensive summary on Medscape if you have it or you can check out the abstract.

Our ever-expanding Iron knowledge gives us great hope for the improved understanding we are likely to reach with all nutrients in the future.  Let’s not forget Iron has about a 70 year head-start on other microminerals such as Zinc and almost a century on Selenium, which was identified to be essential in just 1979! 

And the contrast is apparent anywhere you care to compare and contrast the ‘older’ with the ‘younger’ nutrients. Just look at iron studies. A personalised detailed account of each individual’s iron story: how much you’re consuming, how effective you are at absorbing what you’ve been offered, how hungry that makes you for more and what good stores mean to you (not some fictitious average male or female)!  All told through 4 distinct but inter-related markers: serum iron, transferrin, transferrin saturation and ferritin.  What can we glean from our current routine assessment of Selenium in contrast?  Their short-term Se intake…yep. Looking forward to the multi-parameter markers of each individual nutrient we just might have at our fingertips in the future, thanks to iron nutrition which continues to teach us how sophisticated nutritional physiology really is 🙂

We know the most about iron and yet we know there is always more to learn.  And who better to teach us this than our clients with iron deficiency or iron excess?  Need some help getting across the most important aspects of recognising and correcting each iron issue in clinic?  We released an Iron Package earlier this year for this very reason. It covers how to really read iron studies (with a great cheat sheet), how not to fall for a fake (deficiency) and what the best supplements and dosing regimes look like and how that differs in pregnancy, athletes, those with marked gut issues and other key groups. It’s your 1 stop iron shop.

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