Nanosupplements could increase our iron levels

Forget broccoli, scientists have developed a new nanosupplement that should allow us to take in extra iron with zero side effects.

We need good levels of the mineral in our blood so that we can make haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body. But anaemia is a common problem, particularly for women, especially when we’re pregnant or if we have heavy periods. It can cause disabling symptoms, including extreme fatigue, tongue swelling, and shortness of breath.

If you’re not getting enough iron from your usual diet, or don’t seem to be absorbing it however many steak and spinach smoothies you knock back, your doctor will probably prescribe supplements. But while these might give you a bit more energy, chances are they’ll also cause other problems.

Because these are made from ferrous iron, rather than ferritin, the form found in food, they upset the balance of bacteria in the gut, causing some dramatic digestive side-effects that I won’t go into detail about on the off-chance you’re reading this while eating.

Dora Pereira from the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit and her team wanted to find a way to make iron easier to take. After looking at several options, they realised that a synthetic version that mimics ferritin might be the best option. They tried different versions, each of them made up of a tiny cluster of molecules, testing them on pre-menopausal women, as this is another common time to be lacking iron. One of their formulations proved 80% as effective at boosting iron levels as standard supplements – so a little less effective, but with no side effects.

As New Scientist reports, Pereira points out that synthetic medicines are often assumed to be worse for us than natural equivalents, but in this case, the man-made option is probably best. She’s now planning large scale trials of her teeny solution.

Image via whologwhy’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley