Iron is an essential mineral for health. Although the body stores some iron and usually can provide adequate amounts when dietary iron is low, low iron levels over a long time frame can cause iron deficiency anemia. Some people are at increased risk of low iron and may need iron supplements. These supplements can cause bloating and other side effects. Consult a qualified health care provider before taking supplemental iron.
Iron is part of all cells and is essential for proper cell growth and differentiation, explains the Office of Dietary Supplements or ODS. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that transport oxygen in the body. Hemoglobin is located in red blood cells, while myoglobin is located in muscles.
Deficiency Risk Factors
Many people are at risk for low iron levels, according to the New York Times Health Guide. Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby and women who are menstruating, especially if they have heavy flow, may have low iron. Babies, children and adolescents also are at risk if they do not eat a suitable diet to provide nutrition for their growth rate. Strict vegetarians, long-distance runners and individuals who donate blood frequently may have low iron levels. Health conditions that can cause low iron include bleeding ulcers and gastrointestinal disorders that interfere with nutrient absorption. In addition, patients undergoing routine dialysis for kidney failure are at greater risk for low iron.
Digestive side effects can occur when taking iron supplements, including bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea or constipation and dark stools, according to the National Anemia Action Council or NAAC. Iron overdose, which is most likely in adults with certain health conditions and in children, has symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and grayish skin color.
To prevent or reduce bloating and other side effects, start with half the recommended iron dosage and slowly increase your intake until you reach the full dose, recommends the ODS. Another option is taking the supplement in two divided doses. Taking iron with food also can help. Although enteric-coated and delayed-release forms of iron tend to have fewer side effects, they are not well-absorbed.
Some people have ongoing digestive side effects that make it difficult for them to take oral iron supplements, as noted by gastroenterologist Bruce R. Bacon of the NAAC. Dr. Bacon advises his patients to try several of the many available iron supplements until they find one they tolerate well. If this does not work, Bacon provides intravenous iron to boost iron stores in the body.