An iron deficiency can leave you feeling tired, cold and weak, according to the Mayo Clinic. Taking daily iron pills can bring your levels up and help you feel better — but, it may also upset your stomach.
"Gentle" iron supplements are formulated to reduce gastrointestinal side effects — for instance, there are some iron supplements that are less likely to cause constipation or diarrhea. Plus, you can lessen your symptoms by taking your supplement with certain foods.
Here are some of the best iron supplements to try if iron upsets your stomach.
Before taking an iron supplement, ask your doctor for a blood test to check if your iron levels are low. And if you take medications, always talk to your doc before starting a new supplement as iron may interfere with certain meds.
Types of Iron Supplements
Iron in supplements comes in many different forms, including ferrous, ferric (iron salts), carbonyl iron, heme iron polypeptides, iron amino-acid chelates and polysaccharide-iron complex, says dietitian Cristina Caro, RDN and spokesperson for the hospitality group Sodexo.
They're all easily absorbed when taken with water, per ConsumerLab, an organization that tests health products. But taking them without food can sometimes lead to GI issues.
If you often experience side effects from iron supps, ConsumerLab suggests trying these types of iron, which are still well-absorbed:
- ferrous bisglycinate
- ferrous glycinate
- iron amino acid chelates
Gentle iron supplements are not without side effects, but you may find that they reduce stomach upset to a more tolerable level.
- Best Overall: Nature’s Bounty Gentle Iron ($19 for 3, Amazon.com)
- Best Budget-Friendly: GNC Gentlesorb Iron ($9.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Before Menopause: NOW Supplements Iron ($8.24, Amazon.com)
- Best Vegan: MegaFood Blood Builder ($14.52, Amazon.com)
- Best Slow Release: Slow Fe Slow Release Iron ($22.94 for 2, Amazon.com)
- Best Low Dose: Fergon High Potency Iron ($13.88, Amazon.com)
1. Best Overall: Nature’s Bounty Gentle Iron
This supplement has iron amino acid chelates (ferrous bisglycinate). "It can be taken with food to reduce irritation while still being absorbed well," Caro says.
Nature's Bounty Gentle Iron is also a top pick from ConsumerLab. These iron pills are both vegetarian and kosher.
Nature’s Bounty Gentle Iron ($19 for 3, Amazon.com)
2. Best Budget-Friendly: GNC Gentlesorb Iron
ConsumerLab deems this GNC pick the top low-cost iron protein chelate supplement — and because it's made of iron protein chelate, you know it won't upset your stomach.
It's both wheat- and gluten-free.
GNC Gentlesorb Iron ($9.99, Amazon.com)
3. Best Before Menopause: NOW Supplements Iron
NOW's Iron is another example of a supplement that uses a form of iron that can be taken with food, but still absorbs well, Caro says.
NOW Iron is a top pick from ConsumerLab. With 18 milligrams of iron, it provides 100 percent of your daily value (DV). That's the precise amount recommended for people assigned female at birth between the ages of 19 and 50, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Children, people assigned male at birth and people post-menopause require far less of this mineral.
NOW iron is vegetarian.
NOW Supplements ($8.24, Amazon.com)
4. Best Vegan: MegaFood Blood Builder
Vegans and vegetarians miss out on heme iron, a form of the mineral that's found in red meat and is easily absorbed, per the Mayo Clinic. Fortunately, it's easy to find supplements that are appropriate for people on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Along with 144 percent of your DV of iron, the vegan-friendly MegaFood Blood Builder supplement contains vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B12. This supplement allows you to get more iron, while avoiding side effects of nausea and constipation, per the manufacturer.
MegaFood Blood Builder ($14.52, Amazon.com)
5. Best Slow Release: Slow Fe Slow Release Iron
If you struggle with GI issues when you take iron supplements, an extended-release option — such as Slow Fe Slow Release Iron — may be beneficial. This type of supplement will deliver iron over a longer period, Caro says.
While it may mean you absorb less iron, the supplement will have less of an effect on your appetite and up the chances that you'll stick with taking it, Caro says.
This supplement offers 250 percent of your DV of iron.
Slow Fe Slow Release Iron ($22.94 for 2, Amazon.com)
6. Best Low Dose: Fergon High Potency Iron
As you've seen, many iron supplements offer a lot of iron — far more than your DV. If you're looking to add iron, but don't want to overdo it, Fergon High Potency is a good option, with 150 percent of your DV of iron.
This supplement won't cause stomach-related side effects, according to the manufacturer.
Fergon High Potency Iron Highly Soluble & Easily Digested ($13.88, Amazon.com)
How to Take Iron Supplements
Iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Still, taking iron pills with a small amount of food may help prevent your upset stomach.
But choose what you eat carefully: "Foods and beverages containing caffeine, calcium, fiber, phytates or tannins can interfere with iron absorption," Caro says.
Make sure to wait until 2 hours after you've taken an iron supplement to eat these foods:
Instead, choose foods high in vitamin C — fruits and vegetables — which improve iron absorption, Caro says.
Iron in Your Diet
Increasing your intake of iron-rich foods may help resolve your iron deficiency sooner so you can stop taking iron pills. Eating these foods regularly can prevent iron deficiency in the future.
Some of the best food sources of iron, according to the NIH, include:
- Iron-fortified cereals and breads
- White beans
- Kidney beans
As with supplements, you should avoid eating dairy foods, caffeine and spinach with iron-rich foods. Pairing these foods with a source of vitamin C can help improve absorption.