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What Are the Benefits of Taking Iron Supplements?

author image Erica Kannall
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Iron Supplements?
Close-up of a hand holding an iron supplement. Photo Credit VIPDesignUSA/iStock/Getty Images

The number of supplements available in vitamin and health food stores can make selecting the right supplement overwhelming. Iron comes as an individual supplement, or it may be combined with other vitamins and minerals. Your doctor may recommend an iron supplement if you have certain health conditions, such as anemia. Always check with your healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your routine.

Role of Iron

Iron is an essential mineral needed to maintain your overall health. It's an integral part of the hemoglobin molecule found at the center of red blood cells. Hemoglobin aids in the transport of oxygen from your lungs to all of your cells. Your body also needs iron for proper protein formation, immune function and cell differentiation. The Office of Dietary Supplements notes that the Institute of Medicine sets daily recommended intakes for iron. Men and women over the age of 50 need at least 8 milligrams of iron per day. Women 19 to 50 should get at least 18 milligrams daily. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams every day, and breast-feeding women should get 9 milligrams daily.

Diet Deficient in Iron

It's always best to get your nutrients from whole foods in your diet whenever possible. Dietary iron exists in two forms: heme iron, which comes from animal products, and nonheme iron, which comes from plant foods. You can increase your iron intake by eating meat, such as liver, beef, turkey, tuna and chicken; vegetable foods, such as soybeans, lentils, kidney beans and tofu; and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereal and oatmeal. If you're unable to meet the recommended daily intake for iron from your diet alone, you may benefit from an iron supplement to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Consuming a source of vitamin C with iron or an iron supplement also helps to enhance iron absorption, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Treating Anemia

According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, with at least 30 percent of the world's population suffering from anemia. This condition occurs when your red blood cell count is below normal or when your red blood cells lack hemoglobin. If you're anemic, you may feel fatigued, weak, dizzy or irritable, and you may have headaches, low body temperature, pale skin and an irregular heart beat. The form of anemia that occurs as a result of iron deficiency can be treated by iron supplementation. These supplements may be in the form of an oral capsule or, in some cases, an injection or intravenous administration. See your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation.

Other Conditions

Many other health conditions can also increase your need for iron and cause you to benefit from an iron supplement. For example, pregnant women have an increased need for iron to support fetal growth and expanding body fluids and tissues. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, people with renal failure, celiac disease, Chron's disease and other gastrointestinal disorders may also benefit from an iron supplement. Anemia.org notes that you may need more iron if you are an endurance athlete involved in heavy training. If you are undergoing cancer treatment, you have an autoimmune condition, or you've been exposed to toxic chemicals, you may also need more iron.

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