September 17, 2002
Question from Calexico, California, USA:
My 50 year old uncle has diabetes. Can he take iron supplements?
I don’t know of any diabetes reason. However, I would wonder why he needs iron supplements. Meats, molasses, beans are good natural sources of iron. Iron Supplements are better absorbed if taken with a source of vitamin C (orange juices for instance). Supplements could be dangerous if taken in large doses.
Additional comments from Dr. Tessa Lebinger:
There is no problem taking iron and insulin.
As an additional thought, often people with type 1 diabetes also have an underactive thyroid gland. If your uncle is on thyroid hormone, he shouldn’t take it at the same time as iron (or calcium supplements) as both iron and calcium can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone. They can be taken at different times of the day.
If your uncle is anemic, make sure it is from simple iron deficiency and not a rare form of anemia called pernicious anemia, which is more common in people with type 1 diabetes than other people and is treated with B12 and folate and not iron.
Additional comments from Delaine M. Wright, Clinical Exercise Physiologist:
Perhaps your uncle should discuss this with his physician due to an emerging link between iron metabolism and type 2 diabetes with insulin resistance.
I am currently working with a patient with hemochromatosis/IDDM, who has enhanced my awareness of this issue. There is a recently published good article on this subject. See Cross-Talk Between Iron Metabolism and Diabetes. Diabetes 51:2348-2354, 2002.