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Iron is a mineral that is essential for many bodily processes. Some people may decide to take iron supplements to ensure that they get an adequate intake of iron.

Several factors can affect the amount of iron in a person’s body. Because low iron levels can cause unwanted health effects, people who find it difficult to get enough iron from their diet may take iron supplements.

This article will provide some information about the role of iron in the body and list some iron supplements to try.

The human body cannot make iron on its own. For this reason, people must obtain the mineral through their diet. When iron makes its way into the body through a person’s diet, it is known as dietary iron.

Research has identified two primary forms of dietary iron. The first is known as nonheme iron, which is present in plant- and animal-derived foods. The second is known as heme iron, which is only present in animal-derived foods.

Heme iron has a higher bioavailability, and the body can absorb it more easily. Nonheme iron is the most important dietary source of iron for vegans and vegetarians. However, it has a lower bioavailability and more factors affecting its absorption.

Around 65% of the iron in a person’s body becomes a part of hemoglobin molecules. These molecules are present in the red blood cells, which carry oxygen from a person’s lungs toward their organs.

Iron is also involved in energy production in the body. It carries oxygen to the muscles and brain and is important for both mental and physical performance. Low iron levels may result in a lack of focus, increased irritability, and reduced stamina.

Additionally, iron is an essential element of various metabolic processes in the human body, including electron transport and DNA synthesis.

Learn more about iron here.

Iron deficiency occurs when the body struggles to absorb or retain enough iron.

According to one 2020 article, the rate of iron deficiency in the United States is around 1% in males under 50 and 10% in women of child-bearing age. In children aged 12–36 months, the rate of iron deficiency is around 9%.

Iron deficiency can sometimes cause anemia, which is a condition wherein the body produces too few red blood cells. Anemia is a common condition, affecting around one-third of the global population. Roughly 50% of these cases are due to iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency can result from a few different causes, such as:

  • A lack of dietary iron: Some people do not get enough dietary iron. This can happen if they follow a vegan or vegetarian diet but do not take an iron supplement. These diets can be low in heme iron.
  • Blood loss: Since a lot of the body’s iron is present in the red blood cells, blood loss can lead to iron deficiency. Blood loss may occur due to menstruation or conditions such as stomach ulcers and colon cancer.
  • Iron malabsorption: Iron malabsorption occurs when the body struggles to absorb the dietary iron that it needs. This can result from conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and procedures such as gastrointestinal surgery.
  • Growth: The body needs iron to aid oxygen transportation. For this reason, people in periods of growth will require more iron because their body will require more oxygen. This makes young children and pregnant people more at risk of iron deficiency.
  • Other conditions: Some other underlying health conditions may also lead to iron deficiency. These include obesity, kidney failure, cancer, and congestive heart failure.

Some symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • a pale complexion

For more in-depth resources about vitamins, minerals, and supplements, visit our dedicated hub.

Healthcare providers tend to recommend iron supplements to correct iron deficiency.

They will also recommend that people get extra iron during pregnancy. This is due to increased dietary needs. Most prenatal vitamins contain extra iron.

The body requires large amounts of iron during pregnancy, and deficiencies may increase the risk of maternal and infant mortality, low birth weight, and premature birth.

One 2015 review found that pregnant people can manage their risk of developing iron deficiency and anemia by taking iron supplements.

Supplements may also positively affect athletic performance in those who are iron deficient. Specifically, a 2015 study suggested that iron supplements can increase the aerobic capacity of iron deficient endurance athletes.

However, when taking iron supplements, it is important to understand the safe and recommended dosages. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend the following daily amounts of iron (in milligrams [mg]):

AgeMaleFemaleDuring pregnancyDuring lactation
0–6 months0.27 mg*0.27 mg*
7–12 months11 mg11 mg
1–3 years7 mg7 mg
4–8 years10 mg10 mg
9–13 years8 mg8 mg
14–18 years11 mg15 mg27 mg10 mg
19–50 years8 mg18 mg27 mg9 mg
51+ years8 mg8 mg

*Adequate intake

If someone sticks to their recommended daily amount of iron, it is unlikely that taking supplements will lead to any unwanted health effects.

However, some people’s bodies may initially struggle to deal with the changes in dietary iron. When this occurs, a person may experience:

It is also possible for an individual to have too much dietary iron in their body. This can lead to conditions such as iron overload disorder and iron poisoning. Anyone who thinks that they may have either condition should seek medical advice.

Some symptoms of iron toxicity include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Healthcare providers will only recommend taking supplemental iron if a person is low in this mineral. People with normal iron levels should not take supplemental iron.

If a person thinks that they may be deficient in iron or may be at risk of developing iron deficiency, they should speak with their healthcare provider.

Iron supplements are often available in tablet form. Some people may prefer to use liquid supplements, but these are less common.

A person should follow their doctor’s instructions or the product label for when and how often to take iron supplements. Typically, it is best to take them on an empty stomach and with water, around 1–2 hours before a meal.

The body can absorb iron more easily when it has enough vitamin C. Therefore, some people may wish to take vitamin C supplements, or consume orange juice, alongside their iron supplements.

Generally, however, people should avoid taking iron supplements with drinks such as coffee, tea, or milk.

People should also avoid taking calcium supplements and antacids with iron supplements.

Many iron supplements are available to buy. Below, we list five products that people may wish to try.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.

Zahler Iron Complex

This vegetarian-friendly option comes with a dose of vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption.

It is also kosher, as well as gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free.

Zahler Iron Complex supplements are available for purchase here.

New Chapter Fermented Iron Complex

As well as being organic, non-GMO, and kosher, this supplement has fermented ingredients, which may help support digestion and improve absorption.

The product has also undergone third party testing.

New Chapter Fermented Iron Complex supplements are available for purchase here.

Floradix Iron + Herbs Liquid Supplement

This liquid supplement has naturally added vitamins. This includes vitamin B12, which some research suggests may help improve the production of healthy red blood cells.

Floradix Iron + Herbs Liquid Supplement is available for purchase here.

Vitamin Friends Adult Vegan Iron Gummies

These supplements come in gummy form, which may be better for people who struggle to swallow tablet supplements.

These gummies contain vitamin C and are vegan, organic, and kosher.

Vitamin Friends Adult Vegan Iron Gummies are available for purchase here.

Thorne Iron Bisglycinate

These capsules may be a good choice for athletes, as they are National Sanitation Foundation Certified for Sport.

This means that they do not contain substances that sporting organizations ban or disallow.

Thorne Iron Bisglycinate supplements are available for purchase here.

Some people may wish to increase their dietary iron intake without taking supplements.

These people can add a number of iron-rich foods to their diets, such as:

  • liver
  • lean red meat
  • shellfish
  • tofu
  • lentils and beans
  • eggs
  • dried fruits
  • dark green leafy vegetables

Iron is a mineral that is essential for many bodily processes. People who find it difficult to get enough iron may consider taking iron supplements. This may help prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Anyone who is considering taking iron supplements should seek the advice of a doctor first.