If you are unable to get enough iron through your diet or you have a medical condition that interferes with the body's ability to absorb iron, your doctor may recommend taking supplements. Iron supplements can be hard on your stomach but there are certain types of supplements and ways to take them that can cut down on side effects. Since too much iron can be dangerous, make sure your doctor knows you are taking iron pills so your blood levels can be monitored.
Your body needs adequate amounts of iron to function properly. Iron's main role in the body is to assist in the transportation of oxygen but it also supports immune function, cognitive development, temperature regulation, energy metabolism, and work performance. Premenopausal women need about 18 mg per day while older women and adult men need about 8 milligrams per day, notes the Ohio State University. Strict vegetarians, pregnant women, those with a poor diet and individuals with diseases that affect the absorption of food, are all at risk of deficiencies. If you are concerned about your iron intake, your physician can run blood tests to check your levels.
Iron supplements are made differently and each person's sensitivity to iron is unique, so it may take some trial and error to find the supplement and dosage that you can tolerate. Even the recommended dosage of iron can cause gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark colored stools and abdominal distress.
Some iron pills are enteric coated or delayed-release preparations which may cause fewer side effects, but the iron in these types of pills is not as well absorbed so they are not usually recommended, reports the Office of Dietary Supplements. If you need to take these types of pills, your physician can make recommendations on how much you need. When taking coated pills you may find that your stools turn black, because the tablets may not be breaking down properly in your stomach. If this occurs, speak with your doctor.
Decreasing Side Effects
Iron supplements come in many forms including capsules, drops and tablets and you may find that you tolerate one form better than the other. Your physician can help you choose a supplement that will cause the least amount of side effects. No matter what iron supplement you take, the Cleveland Clinic recommends taking it with food to avoid an upset stomach. You may also want to spread the dosage out during the day instead of taking it all at once. If you are taking the supplement with food, avoid consuming dairy products, coffee, tea, cereals, caffeine, antacids or calcium supplements as they can inhibit the absorption of iron. Taking it with a food or beverage that is high in vitamin C such as a glass of orange juice will improve absorption.
Forms of Iron
Iron supplements may contain different forms of iron including ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous fumarate, and others. You may find that you tolerate one form better than another and those that contain polysaccharide-iron complex such as Niferex-150, claim to cause less side effects, but there is not enough research to back those claims, according to MedlinePlus. There is no one iron supplement that is best for everyone and it usually takes some trial and error to find a supplement that works for you and that helps you meet your daily iron needs.