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Iron Supplements & Milk

By Edie Grace

Iron deficiency occurs when iron stores within the body become depleted. This deficiency commonly occurs in menstruating women, pregnant women, vegetarians, children and people with gastrointestinal disorders, according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health. If you have a severe iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend a course of iron supplementation to restore the body's iron levels.

Function of Iron

Iron is very important for the healthy production and circulation of two proteins, hemoglobin and myoglobin. When iron levels are low, your body produces fewer red blood cells, meaning sufficient levels of these proteins aren't circulating through your bloodstream. If you are iron deficient, you may feel lethargic, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains, because without enough red blood cells, carbon dioxide is not removed from the body as it should be.

Iron and Milk

Milk is very low in iron, which is the reason why so many infants are prone to iron deficiency. Children who do are not breastfed and are fed cow's milk in infancy may become anemic, MedlinePlus reports. Breastfeeding children consume three times as much iron as those who drink cow's milk. Powdered milk that is iron-fortified is also preferable to cow's milk. Goat's milk has similar properties to cow's milk, so it is not a suitable replacement. Babies are only born with six months' worth of iron reserves and, if this iron is not replaced, they make require iron supplements.

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Iron Absorption

Goat's and cow's milk can affect the absorption of iron; you should never drink either at the same time you take an iron supplement, because both of these types of milk are high in calcium, which limits iron absorption. According to a fact sheet from the University of California-Davis, some studies have found calcium supplements and dairy products to limit the amount of iron absorbed from a meal. Because of this risk, never take an iron supplement with milk.

Risks

Iron deficiency can have a number of symptoms. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, people deficient in iron may become tired and weak, have trouble concentrating, have weaker immunity and problems with body temperature. However, even though milk may contribute to iron deficiency, it is important that you do not limit your intake, except around the time of taking your supplement. Calcium deficiency may cause osteoporosis, also known as brittle bones. Calcium may also prevent certain types of cancer, though studies are still ongoing in this area as of 2010.

Solution

Eating a varied diet can help to prevent iron-absorption problems. Avoid milk products around the time of your iron supplement consumption. Take the supplement with a juice or meal high in vitamin C to aid absorption, the Office of Dietary Supplements instructs.

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