Iron supplements can be a challenge to take. They’re not always well absorbed and frequently have side effects. Here’s how to take iron supplements to get the most benefits.
Did your doctor tell you that you need to take an iron supplement? This may be because your blood exam shows you have an iron deficiency anemia or a low ferritin level – a sign of decreased iron stores. Iron deficiency anemia is most common in pre-menopausal women and vegetarians. When it occurs in older women or males, a work-up is usually needed to find out why. Taking iron supplements can be a little tricky and some people don’t tolerate them well. Here’s how to take iron supplements to get the most benefits while reducing the side effects.
How to Take Iron Supplements
Don’t Take It Unless You Need It
Most people get enough iron in their diet, unless they’re a vegetarian, and don’t need an iron supplement. Too much iron can be damaging because of its pro-oxidant effect. Don’t take a supplement unless you know your iron stores are low or you’re pregnant.
It’s Best to Take It on an Empty Stomach
Ideally, iron supplements should be taken on an empty stomach, but some people have nausea when they do. If you experience stomach upset, take iron pills with a small amount of food, but not raw vegetables, nuts, beans, grains, or tea. These foods contain tannins, phytates, and oxalates which reduce absorption of iron.
Don’t Take It with an Antacid
Antacids decrease acid production by the stomach which is needed for maximal iron absorption. Taking supplemental iron with an antacid reduces its absorption by up to forty percent. When taking iron supplements, wait at least two hours after using an antacid.
Take It with Citrus Juice
Vitamin C increases absorption of iron. Take iron supplements with a six ounce glass of orange juice for best absorption.
Take an Iron Supplement in Divided Doses When Possible
Taking supplemental iron two to three times a day instead of once increases absorption and reduces nausea. Ask your doctor about this.
The Importance of Fiber
Taking iron supplements leads to constipation in most people. Increase your intake of fiber or take a fiber supplement, but not around the time you take your dose of iron. Foods that are high in fiber can reduce iron absorption.
Finally, be patient. The anemia will usually resolve in about eight weeks, but you’ll need to continue the supplements for another six months or so to replenish tissue iron stores.