Iron is an essential mineral that transports oxygen to every cell in your body. Iron surpluses are housed in the liver, spleen, bone marrow and muscles. People who are iron-deficient may develop anemia, which can cause fatigue and weakness. Iron is found in a variety of foods, such as fortified breads and cereals, beans, lentils, poultry and dairy products. However, iron supplements are sometimes needed to improve iron levels and treat anemia. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the daily value for iron is 18 milligrams. The best time to take an iron supplement will depend on when you eat your first meal.
Iron supplements are best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach. However, you might have less stomach-related side effects if you take it with food.
Best Time to Take Iron
Iron should be taken on an empty stomach to ensure full absorption, according to the Society for the Advancement of Blood Management. However, your doctor might advise you to take iron supplements with food to help reduce risk of an upset stomach. It's generally recommended that adults take an iron supplement with 8 ounces of water, or, with fruit juice, as vitamin C improves absorption of this mineral. Over-the-counter iron supplements are available in chewable, capsule and tablet forms. Liquid iron supplement is typically used for infants and small children.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Anemia can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as bleeding ulcers or heavy blood loss during menstruation. Iron deficiency due to anemia is commonly treated with 325 milligrams of ferrous sulfate, three times per day, according to Clinical Correlations. In severe cases of anemia, iron should be administered intravenously in a health-care facility. It normally takes two to three months of treatment to reverse anemia and six months for the body to build up an iron reserve. People who are iron deficient because of uncontrolled bleeding require ongoing iron therapy. Talk to your health-care provider about taking iron supplements for your specific condition.
How to Take Iron
Taking iron supplements with certain foods may deplete its value. Avoid eating eggs, cheese, yogurt, whole grains and spinach one to two hours after taking iron. It's also best not to drink milk, coffee or tea, as these can also decrease iron absorption, according to the Society for the Advancement of Blood Management. Iron supplements should be taken at least one to two hours apart from calcium supplements and antacids to reap the maximum benefits from each.
Expect Side Effects
According to the National Institutes of Health, too much iron from supplements can cause health issues. Common side effects associated with taking more than 20 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight include upset stomach, nausea, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn. Iron toxicity can occur when taken in amounts that far exceed the recommended dosage, leading to vomiting, fainting and abdominal pain. Severe iron toxicity, or one-time ingestion of 60 milligrams per kilogram of body weight can cause coma, convulsion, organ failure or even death.
- Mayo Clinic: Iron Supplement Proper Use
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- National Institutes of Health: Iron in Diet
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Taking Iron Supplements
- Society for the Advancement of Blood Management: A Patient's Guide to Oral Iron Supplementation
- Clinical Correlations: The NYU Langone Online Journal of Medicine: Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Guide to Oral Iron Supplements