7 Things to Know About Iron Supplements

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  • If you have been feeling unusually tired or weak, your doctor may test you for iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which your body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. Iron supplements are a common treatment for iron-deficiency anemia, but it’s worth your time to learn a little more about them, including the various options, common side effects, and the best way to take them.

  • 1
    Iron supplements come in a variety of types.
    variety of pills spread out on table

    Your daily multivitamin might contain extra iron, but you can also choose from a variety of iron-only supplements. Take a look at the pharmacy shelf, and you’ll see iron supplements containing ferrous sulfate and ferric iron salts, which are the most common. However, you may also notice supplemental iron that will deliver other types of iron.Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new supplement or medication.

  • 2
    Dosage amounts vary, too.
    red tablet pills

    Your sister may take one dose of iron, and your pregnant neighbor might take another. Certain people are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia and require extra iron, including the very young, pregnant women and people with certain gastrointestinal disorders and other health conditions. But the recommended dose amount will vary, based on those factors, as well as factors such as diet and blood loss.

  • 3
    Your stomach may object.
    senior man sitting up in bed with hand on stomach

    Iron pills are notorious for their side effects, notably common gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, constipation and abdominal cramping. You might avoid some of the brunt by taking your supplement with a little food.

  • 4
    Slow-release iron pills may be gentler to your stomach.
    Woman taking pill

    Since the most common complaint that everyone has about iron pills is their tendency to cause gastrointestinal side effects, you may want to try a slow-release formulation. These formulations seem to be gentler on your GI tract and cause fewer uncomfortable side effects.

  • 5
    Iron and calcium don’t mix.
    pitcher of milk pouring into glass on table

    One thing you definitely don’t want to mix with your iron pills for anemia is calcium. Don’t take a calcium supplement at the same time that you take your iron supplement. And don’t wash your iron pill down with a glass of milk, either. The calcium can interfere with the absorption of the iron. For the same reason, you should avoid the temptation to pop an antacid tablet to ward off heartburn as they are also loaded with calcium. Antacids tend to reduce the effectiveness of iron supplements. Wait at least two hours after taking an iron pill before you take an antacid.

  • 6
    Coated iron pills may be less effective.
    coated red pills

    Many people opt for coated iron pills because they tend to cause fewer gastrointestinal side effects. Unfortunately, since iron is absorbed the small intestine, the coating can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the iron in the pills. You and your doctor might want to pay attention to your iron levels to make sure you’re getting enough.

  • 7
    Vitamin C is your iron supplement’s best friend.
    glass of orange juice on wooden table

    Some experts suggest popping vitamin C or drinking a small glass of vitamin C-packed orange juice along with your iron pills. The vitamin C can improve your body’s absorption of the iron from the supplement.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 15
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    SL and Auerbach M. Treatment of iron deficiency anemia in adults. UpToDate.
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