Iron is an essential nutrient for the body. It promotes the formation of haemoglobin, the complex protein that carries oxygen throughout the body and delivers it to various organs. Therefore, adequate iron absorption in the body is important.
However, certain studies have suggested that consuming tea and coffee can inhibit iron absorption. Consequently, doctors recommend people avoid coffee and caffeine, especially those who suffer from iron deficiency.
In this article, we will have a look at how coffee and tea impact on absorption of iron in the body. We will also look at a few other substances that can meddle with the level of the absorption. So let’s get started.
Impact of Coffee and Tea on Iron Absorption
There have been a few studies that evaluated the effect of coffee or tea consumption on iron absorption levels. One study demonstrated that one cup of coffee decreased absorption from a hamburger meal by 39%. Similarly, one cup of tea reduced absorption by 64%.
Also, it was noted that consumption of coffee one hour before the meal did not decrease the iron absorption. However, when taken with the meal or even one hour later, it caused the same levels of absorption reduction. What’s more, the stronger the tea or coffee, the less iron is absorbed by the body.
Both tea and coffee and other beverages with caffeine contain polyphenols that have an affinity for iron. Although these polyphenols are widely touted for their incredible antioxidant properties, they latch on to iron and reduce its absorption in the body. This is especially true if tea/coffee is consumed at the same time as a meal.
Furthermore, it is important to note that this binding only impacts non-heme iron, i.e. the one obtained from plant foods. It does not have any impact on heme iron.
Other Substances That Impact Iron Absorption
As discussed above, polyphenols present in tea and coffee reduce iron absorption in the body. However, tea, coffee, and other substances containing polyphenols are not the only items that meddle with the absorption. Apart from them, tannins found in black tea also inhibit iron absorption. They bind with iron during digestion, making it hard to absorb.
Having said that, the impact of polyphenols and tannins on iron absorption hugely depends on the amount consumed. The higher the amount of polyphenols and tannins, the lesser will be the rate of iron absorption.
Is It Important to Reduce Your Intake of Tea and Coffee?
A lot of studies have concluded that drinking tea or coffee does not cause any iron deficiency and anemia in perfectly healthy people. This is because these people get the adequate iron nutrient from the diet they consume.
Regularly consuming a diet that is rich in iron and vitamin C can easily overcome iron inhibition caused by drinking tea or coffee. However, if a person suffers from acute iron deficiency, he/she may choose to avoid drinking all beverages containing caffeine.
Also, certain people are at a high risk of iron deficiency. Such people include pregnant women, infants, vegetarian eaters, people suffering from inflammatory bowel disorder, etc. For such people, consuming high levels of polyphenols is not recommended.
Additionally, people who find it very difficult to cut down on tea or coffee must consume them keeping the following tips in mind.
- Wait for at least one hour after your meal to drink tea or coffee
- Try to drink tea or coffee between meals
- Consume a diet rich in iron
- Increase the intake of vitamin C as it facilitates the absorption of iron
- Increase the intake of heme iron which comes from sources like meat and poultry
All these tips will help to limit the impact of drinking tea or coffee on iron absorption in the body. Apart from that, you can also take some dietary supplements after consulting your doctor. Certain supplements have a higher bioavailability than traditional iron supplements. For instance, Orzax Liposomal Iron uses liposomal technology that increases the bioavailability of therapeutic agents, and thus, increases its efficacy.
Tea and coffee along with other caffeinated beverages are known to inhibit iron absorption. However, the reduced absorption is due to the polyphenols present in these drinks and not caffeine.
Luckily, healthy people are not at any risk of becoming iron deficient from the consumption of tea and coffee. But the most vulnerable groups can certainly avoid these drinks or take a dietary supplement to meet their nutrient requirements.