Iron is an essential mineral that can be found in every cell in the human body. It's required for cells to function and can be absorbed through a variety of foods. If you don't have enough iron in your body, you may develop negative health symptoms, including anemia. Combating these symptoms often means you must take iron supplements. Unfortunately, iron supplements can cause a range of side effects, like bloating, that affect the digestive system.
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Iron and Iron Deficiencies
Iron is an important mineral that helps the body produce hemoglobin and myoglobin, oxygen-carrying proteins. Many foods are sources of iron, including beef, eggs, lamb, salmon and tuna. There are also various vegan sources of iron, including dark leafy vegetables, dried fruits, legumes and whole grains.
Low levels of iron can occur because of insufficient iron in your diet or other factors. Blood donors, long-distance runners, menstruating women and pregnant women are at increased risk for low iron levels. People with medical conditions that affect the digestive tract, like ulcers or Crohn's disease, are more likely than others to have low levels of iron. These low levels can cause dizziness, headaches, irritability, lethargy, trouble breathing and weight loss. Over time, low iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
Men and women need different amounts of iron. Men need 8 milligrams of iron per day, while women need varying amounts depending on their age and other factors. In general, women need:
- 18 mg of iron per day until the age of 50.
- 8 mg of iron per day after the age of 50.
- 27 mg of iron per day during pregnancy.
- 9 mg of iron per day when lactating.
If you suspect you may have low iron levels or need to supplement your dietary iron consumption, your doctor may recommend iron tablets or other types of iron supplements.
Iron Pills and Side Effects
Iron pills and supplements come in different forms. For instance, iron tablets can be made of ferric iron or ferrous iron. There are also liquid iron supplements, iron-rich mineral water alternatives and even intravenous ways to take iron. Taking oral iron pills is the easiest and most affordable way to effectively increase your iron levels.
Iron supplements known to cause gastrointestinal problems. Gastrointestinal side effects of iron include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, stomach bloating and cramping. Iron pills can cause these issues because of poor absorption into the body; they form free radicals that can damage the intestines and increase inflammation. If you're taking iron tablets and are experiencing any of these side effects, the bad news is that most iron products can cause them. However, many people experience relief by trying different types of supplements — a 2015 study in the Journal of Drug Research showed that ferrous iron causes more problems than ferric iron. Synthetic liquid iron beverages and mineral waters naturally rich in iron may also be better tolerated than tablets.
If you're not keen on taking iron pills but need to increase your iron levels, try eating foods with vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods. Vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes, can help increase iron absorption. Simultaneously, be sure to avoid foods that inhibit iron absorption, including eggs, milk and walnuts.
Read more: Foods That Inhibit Iron Absorption
- Medline.gov: Iron in diet
- Gut: Iron, anaemia, and inflammatory bowel diseases
- Lancet: Iron deficiency anaemia
- Cleveland Clinic: Intravenous Iron Supplementation
- European Journal of Nutrition: Iron bioavailability from commercially available iron supplements
- Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology: Iron Supplements and Magnesium Peroxide: An Example of a Hazardous Combination in Self‐Medication
- Drug Research: Comparison of the Therapeutic Effects and Side Effects of Oral Iron Supplements in Iron Deficiency Anemia