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How iron-ic

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After recently having a blood test (I am proud to sayI knew all but one of the abbreviations on the blood test form, a sure sign Iam almost a pharmacist) it was discovered that I had iron-deficiency anaemia. Ithen realised it would explain why I spent most of my days feeling tired, and,in my opinion, why I needed a long sleep every night! The doctor prescribed meferrous sulphate 200mg tablets, to take one tablet three times a day. Istraightaway assumed this was down to my lack of love for red meat, which israrely included in my diet.

As in a previous blog, I mentioned I love tea. I have tea throughoutthe day and feel like I am the biggest tea lover in the world. So imagine, tomy distress, what I felt like when I learned of an association between tea andiron-deficiency! I guess it may not be fully down to my diet after all…

I learned of this connection the same day I started my irontablets. I was watching a programme on TV where a woman survived the whole dayon numerous cups of tea. The TV presenter went on to say how the caffeine intea reduces the absorption of iron. The longer the teabag is kept in the water,the stronger the tea and hence the more caffeine that can reduce ironabsorption. And so, as any pharmacy student would, I decided toinvestigate further.

Sure enough, it was true. Tea, and also coffee,contain polyphenols which bind to iron therefore making it hard for our body toabsorb iron. Even thePatient Information Leaflet advises that ‘FerrousSulphate tablets should not be taken within one hour before or two hours aftereating or drinking the following products: tea, coffee, milk, eggs and wholegrains’ as these can reduce iron absorption. I then stumbled across a studyconducted in 2004 titled ‘Impact of tea drinking on ironstatus in the UK: a review’. This found that healthy individuals who do nothave a risk of iron-deficiency do not need to restrict their tea intake, but peopleat risk of iron-deficiency should drink tea between meals instead and to waitat least an hour before drinking tea after a meal.

I find itironic (no pun intended!) that caffeine, a stimulant that causes you to ‘wakeup’, can in effect contribute towards iron-deficiency in individuals at risk,therefore causing tiredness. On a last note, ifI shouldn’t have tea one hour before and two hours after taking a tablet, anddo this three times a day, I still cannot figure out when I am meant to have mytea! If something this small interferes with my daily routine, I wonder how hard it must be for patients on medication that have theirroutine interrupted a lot more than just skipping a cup of tea.

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