The usage of iron supplements is common in women for the replacement of iron lost during heavy menstruations and to prevent iron deficiency in pregnancy. However, the need for women to be cautious about the type of iron supplements they take has risen, as a new study has found that iron tablets taken by women may cause bowel cancer.
The findings, published in the journal Oncotarget, noted that two chemicals – ferric citrate and ferric EDTA, commonly found in the over-the-counter iron supplements, increase levels of a protein associated with the disease.
According to the lead author of the study, Professor Scheers, from the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, : “We can conclude ferric citrate and ferric EDTA might be carcinogenic, as they both increase the formation of amphiregulin, a known cancer marker most often associated with long-term cancer with poor prognosis”.
He mentioned that previous studies have found similar results on the subject as a research done two years ago suggested that excessive iron levels ‘switch on’ genetic pathways that lead to bowel cancer
This is not the first time such concerns have been raised; with a study released two years ago suggesting the DNA of cells in blood vessels can be destroyed within 10 minutes of swallowing iron tablets
Nonetheless, the study results suggested ferrous sulphate, which is also often found in iron supplements, does not lead to higher amphiregulin levels.
Expatiating on their discovery, Prof. Scheers said although their study was not conducted directly on humans, but on human cancer cells cultured in the laboratory, it still called for caution on the part of women.
The scientist explained further that if he needed iron supplement, he would rather avoid any that contains ferric citrate, which is the carcinogenic element in the supplement.
It was on this note the researchers urged manufacturers of iron supplement to make their labels clearer, for patients to know the active chemicals in their drugs.
Professor Scheers said: “Many stores and suppliers don’t actually state what kind of iron compound is present – even in pharmacies. Usually it just says “iron” or “iron mineral”, which is problematic for consumers.
Researchers and authorities need to start to distinguish between this form of iron and that form of iron. We need to consider that different forms can have different biological effects”, he quipped.
Noting that there several types of iron supplements available in the market , based on at least 20 different compounds, the researchers said ferric sulphates is one of the most common compounds in these tablets.
The findings, which was reported on Dailymailonline is an eye opener for authorities controlling drugs and foods circulation in Nigeria, such as NAFDAC and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to verify all iron supplements in the country, to ensure that they are free of these carcinogenic chemicals.