Taurine Corrects Iron-Deficiency Anemia
December 19, 2002—Supplementation with the amino acid taurine enhances the effect of iron therapy in young women with iron-deficiency anemia, according to a report in the European Journal of Haematology (2002;69:236–42).
Taurine occurs naturally in animal foods and is present in fairly large amounts in the body. It functions as an antioxidant and helps stabilize cell membranes. Taurine has been used with some success to treat heart failure, some liver disorders, and certain abnormalities of visual function.
In this new study, 51 female university students with iron-deficiency anemia were treated with a standard iron preparation for 20 weeks. Half of the women were also given taurine (1,000 mg per day), while the others received a placebo. By the end of the treatment period, the average blood count (measured as hemoglobin concentration) had increased significantly in both groups. However, the group receiving taurine had a significantly greater increase in blood count than did the placebo group. The advantage of taurine over placebo was equivalent to the production of more than three-quarters of a pint of additional blood. Moreover, body-iron stores were significantly greater in the taurine group than in the placebo group by the end of the study. No adverse effects attributable to taurine were reported.
It is not clear how taurine improved the results of iron therapy. Taurine probably did not have a direct effect on iron absorption, as the two supplements were taken six to eight hours apart. It is possible that taurine, by functioning as an antioxidant and cell-membrane stabilizer, increased the survival time of red blood cells, thereby increasing blood counts. Whatever the explanation for its effect, taurine may be considered for women who have had difficulty correcting iron deficiency by iron supplementation alone.
In addition to taurine, other nutritional factors appear to play a role in the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, and many doctors recommend that vitamin C be taken at the same time as supplemental iron. Vitamin E and calcium, on the other hand, may interfere with iron absorption if taken at the same time as iron supplements. The main foods that inhibit iron absorption (again, if taken at the same time as the iron) are coffee, tea, and soy products.
Although iron deficiency is a common problem, particularly among menstruating women, indiscriminate use of iron supplements can be dangerous. A small proportion of the population has a genetic disorder that causes them to accumulate iron, potentially leading to diabetes or severe liver disease if supplemental iron is taken. For this reason, individuals considering iron supplementation should consult a doctor.
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Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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