Now that I finally knew my poor 18 month old boy had a low ferritin serum test (15 ng/ml), I was fairly certain that was what had been causing his (and my) sleepless nights. I felt confident that he would soon be on his road to recovery. Not exactly. I tried several different iron products only to find that he hated them or was allergic to their ingredients. It required a great deal of research and I want to be able to pass what I’ve learned on.
I began by going to a compounding pharmacy for Ferrous Gluconate. A 30-day supply costs around $40. It’s a liquid elemental iron that wouldn’t cause constipation like other iron supplements might. I immediately encouraged him to try the funky/stinky dark brown mixture with him at the pharmacy. He spit it out — everywhere. I tried at home — same thing. All of his clothes were getting stained and the expensive iron was everywhere but in his belly. I tasted it, and to his credit, it tasted like I was drinking liquified nickels so I couldn’t blame him at all. I tried mixing it with anything and everything to lessen the flavor — the pharmacist even recommended chocolate syrup — but the taste could not be covered. He became so distrustful of me that he wouldn’t eat any food I offered to him.
Next, I decided to go with the chewable Icar tablets, despite their use of red dye #40 to brand the pills. They cost about $15 at the pharmacy for a 30-day supply. I administered 1 of 4 tablets. He merrily chewed it and immediately communicated ‘more’ with his sign language. I was so elated, this was going to solve our problem! “Wow, all four chewables, down the hatch. This was going to be simple!” I thought, he will be on his road to recovery in no time!
That night, my husband had a couple old friends over and I thought once I put the baby down I could head downstairs and relax for a little while. That never happened. The baby didn’t go to sleep until 11pm — about 2 hours past his bed-time. He was fully wired and I had no idea why. I went downstairs and they all commented on my hair it was a disaster, my ponytail was on the side of my head and only had a few straggler hairs left in it. They left shortly after and we went to bed, too — only to be woken up a short time later at midnight by our boy. He wanted to play. This went on until 12 noon the next day. Yes, 12 NOON. For 12 hours straight he was wired and would not go to sleep. The culprit? Red dye #40 in the Icar tablets. My search now needed to continue.
Next, I tried Ferrous Sulfate which, like Icar, can be purchased without a prescription at a regular pharmacy desk. Ferrous Sulfate is often used as a nutritional supplement to enrich foods with iron. You will see it in ingredient lists on nutrition labels. It cost a bout $3 and for an additional $2 they offered to flavor it. The flavoring really didn’t mask the taste and the aftertaste was still heinous. So, to me, that just added another questionable, artificial ingredient into the mix, which, at this point, I didn’t need. In short, Ferrous Sulfate was not much better than gluconate and he refused it as well.
Pleading for Help
I called his pediatrician’s office and pleaded with the nurses for help. They were useless, which was amazing to me because this office had a strong reputation. This is the first time I truly needed help beyond well-check or a fever. I had found a tablet online that mixed vitamin C in the iron chewable. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron so this was a perfect combination if it was the right thing. The nurses insisted that it was not ‘elemental iron’ so it wouldn’t work to raise his ferritin serum levels, I asked what they meant and they gave me a half-hearted explanation that truly made no sense. They also said that they never had a child that wouldn’t take any of the irons I had tried. Yeah, right. Incidentally, my neighbor learned her son had the same issue after us — and went to the same pediatrician — and had the same problem. I started to doubt his pediatrician and the nureses and considered switching.
I also continued looking for more iron alternatives. I called my local CVS pharmacy, I talked to a pharmacist who just found out that her 14 year old daughter was finally diagnosed with the same issue — after 14 years. Which made me so guilty about figuring it out (myself) after only 18 months. She faxed me a list of 75 iron products that they carried that I could try. The issue with all of them was that none of them were chewable and trying to get an 18-month old to swallow a tablet was not an easy task — or a good idea. I continued my quest.
I found a couple potentially promising leads including a product for Bariatric surgery patients called Bariatric Advantage – chewable flavored iron. But in addition to the iron, it included ‘Fructooligosaccharides.’ I had no idea how to say it, letalone what it was. FRUCTO – OGLIO- SACKA – RIDES. I didn’t want to administer something that would hurt him, so I started researching more. The reason that I mention this specific product is because I thought it’s worth mentioning that I found that Fructooligosaccharides is considered a ‘generally safe’ ingredient in the U.S. but has been banned for it’s use in baby formulas in the UK because of questionable safety in infants. I thought it was probably best to stay away from that product because the UK seems to have a leg-up on the U.S. where food safety is concerned — including the regulation of artificial colors.
Midlothian Laboratories Iron Chews
At this point, I called Hawthorn Pharmeceuticals — the makers of Icar, because if it werent for the dye in their product, he could take their chewables with no issue. I asked if they made Icar without red dye. Not only did they not make a dye-free version, they were planning on halting manufacturing of Icar altogether.
I felt defeated. But had some more fight left in me and thought to find a generic version of the Icar tablets might might have red dye #40. I ended up getting in touch with an awesomely helpful chemist at Midlothian Laboratories named Phil Knight who gave me better service than the peditrician’s office. I communicated with him both on the phone and over email. He told me that their generic Icar product also used red dye #40 — so their iron chews were out. But, he said he was happy to help in any way he could. Since that was the case, I decided to ask him about the Nature’s Plus High Potency Iron with Vitamin C Plus Herb that his current pediatrician’s office said wouldn’t work. I emailed him the supplement information and asked him what the difference was with this and ‘elemental iron.’ He said there was none. He added that the tablet that I had found may be even better because it was ‘chelated iron’ which is more easily absorbed by the body and gentler on the system — especially that of a child. This was great news and I started gaining confidence, but I still to wanted to check with a physician because I wanted to be sure I was giving my son the right iron and the right dosage. Iron overdoses are deadly.
I made an appointment with another well-respected pediatrician in my area. She personally researched the iron and told me that it would work well. I was ready to give it a go. He liked the tablets and they didn’t have a strong taste at all. After a few weeks of taking them he got tired of them so I looked for other foods to mix the crusted tablets in. I landed on Blue Sky Ginger Ale and haven’t turned back. I crush the pills with a mini mortar and pestle I found at World Market.
More infants should receive iron supplements and their parents don’t know it. Once your child’s stored iron is down, the only way to get it up again is by using supplements, but it’s a good idea to aggressively integrate iron-rich foods in your child’s diet.
There are a couple different kinds of iron in foods; one is ‘heme’ and the other ‘non-heme.’ Non heme iron is found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach and heme iron found in meats such as steak and liver. Heme irons are more quickly absorbed by the body than non-heme irons. But, non-heme irons encourage the absorption of heme irons. So eating a balanced diet truly is the way to go. Read more about heme and non-heme irons.
In addition to eating foods high in iron, I learned an interesting tidbit; I never knew that if you cooked in a cast iron skillet, it infuses iron into your food. Read more about the Journal of the American Dietetic Association study Cast Iron Pans, Iron and Carcinogens in Cast Iron, Techniques for Restoring an old Cast-Iron Skillet. Here’s a great cookbook for that: The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook: Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen
My account of the supplements I’ve tried with my son is just one account of my own, personal experience. There are many more different types of irons out there, although I’m not sure how many of them are in a chewable, non-offensive form. You may be reading my articles because you are having the same troubles as I did, I hope I can help and wish you the best of luck! Part 3 of my series article will focus on natural ways to deal with restless leg syndrome.