Use of iron supplements with vitamin C does not help treat iron deficiency anemia, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, Chinese researchers indicate that vitamin C does not impair the absorption of the iron supplements, but it also did not improve the amount of iron a person absorbed.
Researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial involving 440 adults with iron deficiency anemia (IDA). The study was a single center trial conducted from 2016 to 2017 in Huashan Hospital, Fudan University in China.
Patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups, either to take 100 mg iron supplements plus 200 mg vitamin C orally or 100 mg oral iron supplements only. Each group took their assigned supplements every eight hours for three months.
Changes in blood iron levels was tracked by the researchers from baseline to two weeks of treatment, and to the final stage of follow-up.
The average change in iron levels was 2 g/dL in the oral iron supplement plus vitamin C group and 1.84 g/dL in the oral iron supplements only group. The difference was small.
The average change in blood iron levels from baseline to the eight-week follow up was 35.75 ng/mL in the vitamin C plus iron group and 34.48 ng/mL in the iron only group.
Additionally, there was no significant difference between the two groups regarding the rates of adverse events. Side effects occurred to 20.9% of patients in the iron plus vitamin C group and to 20.5% of patients in the iron only group. No patient withdrew from the study because of adverse events.
The findings indicate both methods were equally sufficient to increase iron levels in the blood and improve iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia is a decrease in the body’s total iron levels and is the leading cause of anemia worldwide. It affects 30% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization.
People who develop IDA often begin with a first stage where there are no symptoms, and it does not require treatment. It can be treated simply and easily by adding iron rich foods, like red meat, to the diet. However, later stages of deficiency may lead to the development of iron deficiency anemia. IDA requires treatment with iron supplements.
Vitamin C is the only other dietary ingredient, other than animal meat, which can help improve iron absorption. However, the findings of the new study indicate the effectiveness of vitamin C in promoting iron absorption in the body is minimal at best.
“These findings suggest that on-demand vitamin C supplements are not essential to take along with oral iron supplements for patients with IDA,” wrote study authors.
To date, there have been no clinical trials focusing on whether vitamin C is necessary for patients with IDA taking iron and is largely a medical practice based on habit.