Does iron pills cause weight gain?

“This is exactly why I don’t use those pills,” he argues, “They’re really effective at a level of dosage you can get. The only way to know for sure is to study the data on many years of data.”

A large-scale study that would let people take their own iron pills has been ongoing. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with type 2 diabetes who took their own iron pills for two years experienced no significant weight gain.

The new study is the third in recent years to look at whether iron pills, as with any other diet or supplement, can increase overall health and longevity. In 2013, Dr. Mark Hyman, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and his team published a study that found that people who took iron pills had lower rates of death from heart disease. He was quick to point out, though, that this study involved just a group of healthy people, not those living with cardiovascular disease or cancer.

“If you’re going to be taking iron pills,” he says, “you can’t be taking them for a chronic disease and have no risk.”

Dr. Tappy concludes that many of the iron pills we take as diet aids work by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, two markers for good health. The higher your LDL levels, the less likely you are to have symptoms of cardiovascular disease like heart attack and stroke. In comparison to people who don’t take these pills, people who take them don’t seem to have these beneficial effects.

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“We don’t really understand the mechanisms in which they act,” he says. “They may boost your testosterone and your lipids, but without any kind of effect on your health.”

His theory is that, rather than increasing HDL levels, the iron pills in the study actually helped people in their normal- or overweight-weight to have elevated cholesterol levels instead. “Those aren’t the healthy ones,” he says, “I know that because I’m the one who takes them and they really do make you overweight and sick in your normal weight.” This theory is likely true for some women, he adds, since women who eat lots of fruits and vegetables and eat well may also have higher LDL-cholesterol levels.

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