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Tea and Iron Deficiency

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is one of the most commonly consumed drinks on the planet and is highly respected for its many health promoting properties.  To name a few, tea is:

    • antioxidant
    • anti-inflammatory
    • probiotic (promotes healthy intestinal bacteria)
    • antimicrobial – antiviral, antibacterial and anti-protozoal
    • anti-mutagenic
    • anti-carcinogenic

However, tea can have a significant negative impact on our health as well.   Green tea, black tea, and some herbal teas (such as peppermint) can contribute to iron deficiency. The polyphenols in tea (the same compounds that give tea – especially green tea – many of its health promoting properties) bind to iron and prevent the body from absorbing it.

When tea is consumed at the same time as iron-rich foods the absorption of iron is decreased by as much as 26%.  This impact on absorption is only a concern with non-heme iron, or plant based iron and is not seen with heme-iron (animal-based iron.)

In order to prevent iron deficiency it is recommended that green and black teas – including iced teas, not be consumed with a meal and that individuals at risk for iron deficiency (adolescents, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, menstruating women, and the elderly) be aware of the potential impact of tea on their iron status.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Lisa Watson

Dr. Lisa Watson is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a passionate writer and speaker and encourages her patients and readers to embrace their full, amazing, health potential. You can follow Dr. Watson on twitter at @drlisawatson or contact her at drlisa@drlisawatson.com.

5 thoughts on “Tea and Iron Deficiency

  1. Yes, decaf tea can also affect iron absorption. It is not the caffeine that prevents iron absorption. It is the polyphenols that bind to the iron and prevent absorption. White, green and black tea – whether decaffeinated or not – all contain varying levels of polyphenols and can impact iron.

    ~Lisa

  2. Does the tea itself rob your body of iron. Or does it just steal the iron from the food in the stomach. And does all teas cause iron deficiency. I drink chamomile ,lemon grass , spearmint tea mixed with green and lemongrass.

    If it is harming my body I don’t want to drink it.

    If I drink it in the morning on an empty stomach will it still take iron from my body?

  3. Hi Josue – the issue is only when tea and iron rich foods are consumed together. If you drink tea away from meals it will be fine!
    The issue is with all true teas – green, white and black – but not with herbal teas like spearmint and lemongrass.
    ~Dr. Lisa

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