Increasing the amount of iron-rich foods in your diet is a great way to boost your iron intake, but if you’re severely iron-deficient or you just want to make sure your bases are covered without a drastic shift to your diet, iron supplements may be your best bet.
Choosing the right supplement, the right dose, and being aware of potential side effects is important before starting to take any vitamin or mineral supplement, and iron is no different. Today we’re going to help you by demystifying the world of iron supplements.
Which Iron Supplement to Choose
There are two main types of iron supplements: ferrous and ferric.
Ferrous iron (including ferrous sulphate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate) is most often suggested for those hoping to increase their iron levels. Ferrous iron supplements can come in liquid, pill, or capsule form and are better absorbed by the body than ferric iron.
Ferric iron isn’t absorbed as well by the gut, which is why It’s prescribed less. Ferric iron supplements like iron citrate, however, carry less chance of iron poisoning due to their poor absorption rates.
Your doctor can help you choose which type of iron supplement is right for you but generally speaking, if you have confirmed that your iron levels are low, ferrous iron supplements are the better choice.
How to Take It
Unlike a multivitamin that you can take any time, iron is more effective when taken at certain times of day, and with certain food combinations.
The UK’s National Health Service explains why these factors matter so much when taking an iron supplement, “The absorption of iron from the gut is reduced by food, tea, and milk, so these should be avoided for one hour before and after taking the iron supplement. Some medications will also affect the absorption of iron from the gut, particularly medications which reduce stomach acid (antacids) and certain antibiotics. Always check with your doctor whether any of your other medicines might affect how your iron supplements work.”
The NHS also explains that while you should avoid taking iron supplements on a full stomach, there are some substances that can significantly improve the efficacy of your supplement. “The only factor that improves the absorption of iron is Vitamin C. This is why we recommend that you take your supplement with a drink containing vitamin C.”
So, wait until an hour after breakfast, then wash down your iron supplement with some OJ, apple juice, or a veggie juice blend.
Like anything else, iron supplements do come with some potential side effects, some normal and some may indicate iron levels that may be getting too high.
Normal side effects include upset stomach/painful stomach, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and/or dark stool. Most of these side effects will lessen or disappear as your stomach gets better at tolerating the supplement.
Although iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency, it is possible to get too much iron, and doing so can be fatal. For this reason, please make sure that you check with your doctor and/or get bloodwork done before taking an iron supplement and get regular blood tests done to ensure you aren’t getting too much.
Taking an iron supplement is a great way to complement a diet rich in high-iron foods, and make sure you’re meeting your daily recommendations for iron intake. By learning which type of supplement to take, how to best take it, and understanding how your body may react, you’re taking control of your physical wellbeing and making positive changes for your body.
Having adequate levels of iron means you’ll finally have the energy to live life to the fullest. You may just find that one good habit begets another! This new, iron-supplemented self may finally have the energy to start exercising, playing with your kids, or cooking healthy meals at home. Take advantage of your new lease on life and continue pursuing your own path to wellbeing. We believe in you!