When I was a child, The Lawrence Welk Show regularly broke away from the singing and dancing to pitch Geritol...
The Geritol sponsorship was so important that the first episode the company sponsored was introduced with great fanfare. But the science on nutrition was terrible...
People thought taking Geritol – which contains alcohol, B vitamins, and iron – would get rid of fatigue and make people happy.
But in the mid-1960s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered the makers of Geritol to disclose that it would only help folks who suffer from iron deficiency anemia. When Geritol flouted the order, the FTC fined the company more than $800,000 – then the largest FTC fine in history.
But growing up, I was convinced of the benefit of iron. It's hard not to be when it's all around you...
Then, 30 years ago, I read an article in a Boston newspaper that alerted me to the dangers of metals to the heart. There's a fine balance in your body between too much and too little of metals like copper and iron for health.
Iron is a necessary mineral in your body... It carries oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells – it's the center element in the hemoglobin molecule.
And anemia, a lack of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, is a serious threat... Anemia is the most common form of malnutrition in the world (and iron deficiency is the most common type of anemia).
Most people in the U.S. get the necessary iron from food... According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 10% of Americans 65 and older have iron deficiency anemia.
But almost twice as many people take a supplement containing iron, according to the National Institutes of Health.
We've discussed why supplements can be dangerous... and iron supplements are no different. These supplements contain excessive amounts of iron, putting people at risk of overdosing. This condition can lead to joint damage, diabetes, and organ failure. Adults only need about 18 milligrams of iron a day – what you'd get in a bowl of iron-fortified cereal. But some supplements contain 65 milligrams or more of iron, a dangerous amount.
If you're experiencing symptoms of anemia, visit your doctor. He has several ways to test you for anemia with physical exams and simple blood tests. Depending on the reason you have anemia, treatment ranges from supplements to blood transfusions.
But you can also easily prevent iron deficiency by watching what you eat.
Do what I do... Strive for a nutrient-rich diet. If you maintain a diet packed with leafy green vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, and meats, you can prevent anemia from occurring in the first place. And you can increase your body's iron absorption by getting plenty of vitamin C.
What We're Reading...
- One of the classic Geritol commercials (video).
- How to find out how much iron is in your cereal. (Aside from reading the box.)
- Something different: How epic fortunes were created during the California Gold Rush.