Takeaway: When you have iron deficiency in your body, you need to take iron supplements to improve the hemoglobin level in your blood for better health. There are many benefits of iron supplements with the primary benefit being the treatment of iron deficiency anemia. Different combinations of iron supplements are available with each providing benefits for your body’s health.
Iron is an essential mineral needed for the proper functioning of hemoglobin, a protein required for carrying oxygen in the blood. Hemoglobin performs various roles in your body to maintain excellent health. When the iron level in your body drops, you will have low levels of hemoglobin, meaning that you will need to take an iron supplement to boost and rebuild your hemoglobin.
Other factors contribute to people needing to take iron supplements including:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Inability to absorb iron from the diet
- Deficient iron in the diet
- Chronic coughs due to taking blood pressure medications
- Severe burns, or chronic bleeding conditions
What Are Iron Supplements Used For?
There are benefits associated with taking different types of iron supplements. A primary advantage of iron is to treat and prevent anemia resulting from low levels of iron in the blood. Anemia can occur from pregnancy, menstrual cycle bleeding, heart failure, or kidney problems.
Iron also preserves many crucial functions in the body, such as gastrointestinal processes, reproductive health, energy production, the immune system, body temperature regulation, and central nervous systems.
If you have low levels of iron, you will lack all these significant benefits, and later you will start experiencing iron deficiency symptoms. Common symptoms include extreme fatigue or weakness, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath, pale skin, headache and dizziness, and breathlessness.
Benefits of Different Types of Iron Supplements
Doctors and nutritionists usually prescribe two types of iron which include the ferrous iron and ferric iron. Your body can absorb ferrous iron much better than the ferric iron. Therefore, most iron supplements have ferrous iron as the main ingredient.
Since ferrous iron supplements offer a high amount of elemental iron, they are often the first choice and best iron supplement used to treat iron deficiency. They are also commonly prescribed and recommended form of supplements.
Other combinations of ferrous iron prescribed by doctors include ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous fumarate.
These combinations offer high doses of elemental iron for each tablet. They are inexpensive and readily available. However, these different iron supplements cause significant gastrointestinal side effects such as constipation, heartburn, nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Fortunately, newer formulations of ferrous sulfate are available in the market in varying forms such as capsules, tablets, extended release liquids and drops with fewer side effects.
Since your body doesn’t absorb ferric iron better than ferrous iron, it is not prescribed often. Additionally, research indicates that the body tolerates ferrous iron than ferric iron.
Best Iron Supplement
The best iron supplement for you should have a form of iron which is easily absorbed in your body with little to no side effects such as nausea and stomach pain. However, most nutritionists and doctors agree that there is not one overall perfect solution for iron intake. What your body requires depends significantly on factors such as diet, gender, and lifestyle.
Iron Supplement Side Effects
Iron supplements are usually well-tolerated and safe if you take them at the recommended dosage. Regardless, some people may experience some unpleasant side effects such as an upset stomach, feeling faint, constipation, dark or tarry stools, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. However, by taking the supplement with food rather than on an empty stomach, one can usually reduce many of these symptoms.
Pregnant women can experience constipation as a common side effect too from iron supplements. To minimize the risk of side effects, begin taking a lower dose and slowly increase the dosage as your body begins to tolerate more.
Also, taking excess iron can result in iron overload or poisoning. Excess iron in your blood can intoxicate the pancreas, heart, liver, and damage joints which might also be fatal. Normally, the side effects of iron poisoning become evident within 6 to 24 hours of excess dosage starting from 60 mg per Kg of body weight or more.
Heme Iron Supplement
Two forms of dietary iron available for sale include the “heme” iron and “non-heme” iron. Heme iron is the best iron that your body can absorb efficiently, which is bound to hemoglobin while no-heme is not restricted.
Non-heme iron supplements have the absorption rate of around 3% on an empty stomach and 1% on food. These supplements include the ferrous sulfate and ferrous fumarate. However, the absorption rate of heme iron is as high as 35%.
Additionally, heme iron doesn’t have the side effects related to non-heme sources of iron, which include diarrhea, flatulence, and nausea.
Iron Supplement Dosage
The standard dosage of ferrous sulfate is 325 mg which includes 65 mg of elemental iron taken orally three times per day. However, lower doses such as 15 to 20 mg of elemental iron taken daily may also be useful with fewer side effects.
To improve absorption, users may combine vitamin C with the iron pill once per day while avoiding tea and coffee. If ferrous sulfate contributes intolerable side effects, the best alternative is to use ferrous gluconate tablets of about 325 mg daily with 35 mg of elemental iron
Iron Supplements for Anemia
Iron supplements work well especially for people who have iron deficiency anemia. With this condition, your doctor will probably prescribe iron supplements that have the ferrous form of iron, for easy absorption. For most people, iron supplements usually have significant results in treating anemic conditions. However, the period required for the recovery process depends on how serious it is with some cases needing more recovery time.
Iron Supplements for Women
Statistics indicate that one in three non-expectant women, corresponding to approximately 500 million women globally, were anemic in 2011. At least half of this anemia is thought to be due to iron deficiency. Iron deficiency in women can arise from the insufficient intake or inadequate absorption of dietary iron, blood loss from menstruation, or helminth illness.
Women in their reproductive age need to use iron supplements since they lose more iron during menstruation. In additions, their diets often lack sufficient iron, therefore making them more vulnerable to iron deficiency.
Research indicates that consumption of daily iron supplements reduces the risks of iron deficiency and anemia in adolescent girls and menstruating women without any side effects.
Signs That Your Iron Pills Are Working
Iron supplements, usually begin to work within a few weeks as you start using them. However, the period required for your body to completely replace iron level will rely on how severe your anemia is at the start.
It also depends on your anemic suffering period, your body’s absorption of the iron, and how well you follow your doctor’s instructions.
An article from Intermountain Healthcare suggests that it usually takes two to three weeks before you realize improvement in anemic symptoms. There are not any specific signs indicating that iron pills are working, but one signal can include having more energy throughout the day.
In some situations, you may need up to six months of regular iron supplement intake to cure anemia. If you have incredibly deficient levels of iron, your doctor might decide to use intravenous supplementation.
Signs in your body that indicate iron supplements are working include:
Sore Mouth and Tongue Relief
If you have severe iron deficiency, you may have problems such as a swollen or bruised tongue, ulcers, and dryness of the mouth. If the iron supplements are working, you may experience some relief of these symptoms.
You Will Feel Less Tired and Exhausted
A common complaint of people struggling with iron deficiency anemia is tiredness. During severe deficiency, you may even feel drowsy always and have low energy. It happens because of an inadequate amount of oxygen supplied to the body tissues allowing them to function less efficiently. Restored energy after you begin iron therapy is one indication that the iron supplements are working.
You Have Better Looking Skin
If your skin displays a healthy glow, chances are you have normal or high hemoglobin level in the blood. Iron deficiency anemia can disguise the natural, vibrant texture in your skin. At times you may look pale and dull regardless of the treatments and make-ups you apply. If you take iron supplements that work, you will see an improvement in your skin.
Fewer Headaches Than Before
If you have iron deficiency anemia, you will get headaches more often without any apparent reason. You may also feel dizzy even if you have eaten properly.
Warmer Hands and Feet
If you have insufficient oxygen delivery, especially to the hands and feet, you will have slower metabolism in the cells found in these regions. You will experience a lesser heat production when compared to other parts of the body. Therefore, you will always discover your hands and feet are cold, even if you wear layers of gloves or socks. So warmer hands is a good signal that the supplements are working.
How Long Does It Take for Iron Pills to Work?
The iron pills usually start working immediately since your body will absorb iron after you begin taking them to relieve deficiency symptoms.
If your iron deficiency is low because of blood loss from menstruation, it may take time to build up iron as you continue experiencing more blood loss with each period.
If your low levels of iron are due to dietary reasons, replacement may be faster than it would be due to blood loss.
If you have adjusted your diet to eat food sources richer in iron, your iron level will increase faster than if you depend on iron pills alone.
All these variables, indicate that only prevailing conditions can evaluate how long it will take for the pills to work. It can range anywhere from 2 to 20 months.
Can Iron Pills Cause Constipation?
Although the side effects of iron supplements are rare, constipation is the most common side effect experienced from iron supplements apart from indigestion, nausea, gas and bloating. The cause of the constipation is the iron itself, not an additional ingredient.
An excellent solution for constipation due to low iron, is to use a liquid iron supplement like the brand Feosol. You can experiment by reducing your dose gradually until you are no longer constipated.
If you want to experience less constipation, try the slow-release forms of iron. The only disadvantage is a lower iron absorption especially in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, where the best absorption occurs. A slow-release iron pill can travel past the duodenum before releasing iron, leaving you with fewer chances of absorptions.
Symptoms of constipation include gas, indigestion, and bloating. Constipation also causes people to feel nauseous and experience difficulty passing stools.
The reason iron causes constipation is due to its effects in the digestive tract, so an increase in iron intake requires some time before your body to adjust to it. The primary reason is that your body may find it difficult to absorb some forms of iron meaning that your digestive system has to work extra hard processing a series of reactions before being utilized for various functions.