Iron is an essential mineral found in many foods and available as a dietary supplement. It’s needed to form hemoglobin, an erythrocyte (red blood cell) protein that transports oxygen throughout the body.
Iron supplements are typically taken as regular, extended-release or slow-release tablets; capsules; or liquid drops and elixirs. They can cause side effects, such as stomach cramps and diarrhea, and should be taken with food or after a meal to reduce these symptoms.
How to take iron supplements
If you are suffering from iron deficiency anemia, taking daily iron supplements can help you restore your hemoglobin levels and boost energy. However, it can take time for iron pills to begin working. Luckily, there are several ways you can tell if your supplement is helping.
When deciding to start taking iron supplements, always consult your doctor first. They can explain the risks and benefits of iron supplements and provide you with the right dosage. They will also test your blood to check for signs of anemia and make sure the iron you are getting is safe for you.
Once you have started taking iron, you should try to take it on an empty stomach to increase absorption. However, if this is not possible, you can take it with food. Just be sure to avoid high-fiber foods, calcium supplements or beverages containing caffeine, as these can decrease iron absorption.
You should continue to take your iron supplements for as long as your doctor advises. They will continue to test your hemoglobin level to ensure that you are recovering from anemia and the iron is building up in your body. They may also recommend continuing to take the supplements even after your hemoglobin levels have returned to normal, in order to prevent a recurrence.
Some people are sensitive to iron supplements and can experience unpleasant side effects. These can include abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. In severe cases, these symptoms can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney or liver damage and heart failure.
Iron can also be toxic to the body when taken in large doses. This can occur in those with a condition called hemochromatosis, where the body absorbs more than it needs. This can build up to toxic levels, causing damage to the liver, pancreas, heart and lungs, and in extreme cases, cause cirrhosis or even death.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. They can advise you on the best way to manage your iron intake and how long it will take to recover from the symptoms of anemia.
When iron supplements start working to improve anemia, it typically takes two to three weeks before people notice a difference in their symptoms. This time frame is based on their individual health situation and how severe the anemia was to begin with. It can also depend on the type of iron they are taking and how much they need to take to help their bodies replenish their depleted stores. It may take up to six months for iron supplementation to cure anemia, and patients should continue taking iron as their doctor recommends.
It is important to remember that the body can become overloaded with iron if too much is consumed in one day. According to NIH, this can cause stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. In extreme cases, it can lead to organ failure and death. This is why it is essential to only take the recommended amount of iron per day for adults. In addition, it is important to store iron supplements in a secure place, away from children.
Many people are concerned that iron pills will upset their stomachs. This is not usually the case, but it is a good idea to take them on an empty stomach to decrease the chance of stomach cramps and diarrhea. It is also a good idea to not take iron with any medications that may interfere with its absorption, such as antacids, calcium or magnesium tablets or milk.
Another concern with iron pills is that they are difficult to swallow and can sometimes cause constipation. This is less of a problem with Active Iron, as it is specially designed to be swallowed easily and without stomach discomfort. This is because it has a special coating that protects the iron from acid in the stomach, which is what causes most stomach issues when taking iron supplements.
It is also important to follow the instructions from a healthcare professional when starting a new iron supplement regimen, especially for pregnant women. It can be easy to overdose on iron, and it is vital for a healthy pregnancy that the doctor monitors blood levels.
Iron plays a key role in hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen through your blood. If you have too little of it, you may have iron deficiency anemia, a condition that affects adults and children. Your body normally gets most of the iron it needs from your diet, including meat, eggs, leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. It also reuses iron from old red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia causes fatigue and weakness. Your doctor will check your iron level to make sure you have enough in the blood.
If your doctor prescribes iron supplements, follow the directions on the label. Your doctor might recommend you take the tablets on an empty stomach, since the body absorbs iron better then. You can help increase absorption by taking the tablets with a glass of orange juice or another acidic drink, such as milk. The vitamins C and E in these foods also enhance absorption. It’s important to keep in mind that you can overdose on iron from supplements. Iron poisoning can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Children are more susceptible to this, so you should store your supplements in a locked cabinet away from children.
Overdose from supplements is uncommon because the body regulates how much iron it absorbs, but it can happen if you are consuming high amounts of the supplement and have iron-rich foods in your diet at the same time. It can also occur in people who have hereditary hemochromatosis, a disorder that causes toxic levels of iron to build up in the liver and other organs. Treatment includes eating a low-iron diet and periodic blood tests to monitor iron stores.
Some people cannot tolerate oral iron, such as those with celiac disease, a disorder that affects the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients. Your doctor might recommend an iron injection, which is usually given in a vein (intravenous). A liquid form of the mineral may be recommended for infants, pregnant women and those who have gastrointestinal issues or other problems that prevent them from taking oral supplements.
Iron is essential for creating hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that help transport oxygen throughout the body. It also helps regulate the immune system and prevents certain diseases. However, iron can be toxic if the body gets too much of it. Excessive iron can build up in organs, such as the liver and heart, causing damage and making them function poorly. Excess iron can also cause symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain and a bronze or slate grey color of the skin. It can also interfere with hormones that control metabolism and libido. People who receive a lot of blood transfusions may develop an excess of iron due to their constant supply of red blood cells. This can cause problems with the liver, heart and brain, and can lead to a condition called secondary iron overload. People who have this problem need to be careful about how much iron they take in supplements or food.
Taking too many iron supplements can cause adverse side effects, including stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea. If these symptoms occur, it is important to contact poison control immediately. In extreme cases, iron overdose can cause death.
In addition to avoiding foods that can reduce iron absorption, you should also avoid taking antacids or H2 blockers at the same time as iron supplements. These medications can make your stomach “achlorhydric,” which means it does not have enough acid to dissolve iron salts. You can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs by eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwi fruits, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables. You can also take a supplement that contains vitamin C to help your body absorb iron more effectively.
Some people may have a genetic disorder that causes them to store too much iron in the tissues. This condition is called haemochromatosis. If you think you have this condition, your GP can order tests to check your transferrin saturation and serum ferritin. Your GP can also advise you on how to best manage your diet so that you get the right amount of iron for your health needs.