What is Best Iron Supplement to Help You Meet Your Health Goals in 2024

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    Iron is vitally important to the functioning of your body. If you don’t get enough in your diet, you may want to try an iron supplement.

    How to choose the best iron supplement for you

    If you’ve ever tried to purchase iron supplements, you’ve probably noticed that there are many different forms and variations available. Here we will break down everything you need to know so you can make an informed decision.

    Chelated iron versus non-chelated iron

    Chelated iron is bound to organic molecules that significantly enhance absorption by the body, making it the preferred option. On the other hand, non-chelated forms are often found in more traditional iron supplements and tend to be more challenging to absorb, and can potentially lead to less effective results.

    Ferrous vs. ferric iron supplements

    Another thing you may notice on the labels of iron supplements are the words ferrous or ferric iron. Well, which one should you choose? Research tells us that ferrous iron is better absorbed by the body than ferric iron supplements.

    Tablet vs. capsule vs. liquid iron supplement

    The form of iron you should take – whether tablet, capsule, or liquid – all comes down to which is going to allow you to be most consistent. There is no form that is preferred over the other.

    Standalone iron supplement vs multivitamin

    The choice between standalone iron supplements versus a multivitamin that includes iron is largely dependent on an individual’s specific nutritional needs. Those who require a significant boost in iron intake, such as those with deficiencies, would benefit more from a standalone supplement.

    Multivitamins typically contain lower doses of iron than standalone supplements do. They are meant to provide a broader spectrum of nutrients, so the iron content will not be as high. They are a great choice for those looking for overall health maintenance, who may not need as high of an iron dose.

    Iron absorption rates (supplement bioavailability)

    The effectiveness of an iron supplement isn't just about its iron content but also its bioavailability – how readily the body can absorb and use it. The bioavailability is dependent on the form of iron and how it is formulated. For instance, Care/of has iron bisglycinate chelate, which is a highly absorbable form of iron that is also more gentle on the stomach. It’s also paired with vitamin C, another factor that enhances iron absorption.

    Reading and understanding iron supplement labels

    Always make sure to look at the dose on the label, which will usually be indicated in milligrams. Also, most importantly, its crucial to have your iron levels checked via blood work before supplementation and only take them if your doctor recommends it. When it comes to iron, more does not mean better. Too much iron can be toxic to the body.

    Researching reputable brands and reviews

    It’s important to seek out supplements that are third-party tested, as this is a reliable indicator of a product’s authenticity and safety. Additionally, certifications such as the certified C.L.E.A.N label further underscore a brand's commitment to providing products that adhere to the highest standards.

    Top 2 Iron Supplements from care/of

    Depending on your individualized needs, Care/of offers two iron supplements that can be easily added to your routine. Let’s take a look at them.

    1. Gentle iron supplement

    Care/of’s gentle iron supplement is a great way to help maintain optimal red blood cell production. Maintaining healthy red blood cell levels is especially important for those who menstruate or are pregnant.

    What makes Care/of’s iron supplement stand out from others is that it’s specially formulated with vitamin C, which helps to boost the absorption of iron. But not just any vitamin C. Care/of has included calcium and magnesium ascorbate, which are buffered forms of vitamin C that ensure iron is absorbed at a much faster rate.

    This iron supplement also includes a chelated form of iron, which makes it easier for the body to absorb, thereby offering optimal benefits.

    2. Multivitamin with iron

    In addition to Care/of’s standalone iron supplement, we also offer a multivitamin that incorporates iron with essential vitamins and minerals. Care/of has carefully pinpointed the nutrients most commonly missing from today’s modern diet and incorporated them into our multivitamin supplement. We chose forms of these nutrients that are the simplest to digest and absorb, along with doses that are studied to be effective.

    The commitment to efficacy doesn’t stop there; even the calcium in this blend is sourced differently. Instead of the conventional limestone-derived calcium, Care/of opts for plant-based calcium and magnesium derived from purified seawater. This marine source is enriched with an additional 70 trace minerals, ensuring not only the provision of calcium but also its optimal utilization by the body.

    Why iron is so vital for your overall well-being

    Iron is an important mineral for the functioning of your body. It’s fortunately found naturally in many foods. You can also get iron through a dietary supplement or through food that has been fortified with iron. As an essential mineral, it’s important that you get as much of it as you can from your food.

    In nature, iron can be found in two forms: It can be found as heme iron, which is a form of iron found in animal-derived foods and is readily absorbed by your body; and it can be found as non-heme iron, which is found in plant-based and iron-fortified foods and isn’t as easily absorbed. Iron is also available in supplement form, which may be especially helpful for those who, for a variety of reasons, don’t get enough iron in their diets.

    What is iron's role in the human body?

    Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, an erythrocyte (red blood cell) protein that helps transfer oxygen from your lungs to your body’s tissues. It’s also a component of myoglobin, a protein that supplies oxygen; in that role, it supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue. Iron’s main function is to help carry oxygen throughout your body in red blood cells. Moreover, iron is necessary for neurological development, cellular functioning, the synthesis of some hormones, and physical growth.

    Understanding iron-deficiency anemia

    Iron-deficiency anemia is what happens when your balance of iron intake, iron stores, and the body’s loss of iron are insufficient to support the production of erythrocytes, or red blood cells. In other words, iron deficiency can happen if the amount of iron you’re taking in isn’t enough to make up for what you lose in the course of your day.

    The effect of iron-deficiency on your health, while typically not fatal, can be profound. In countries with highly developed healthcare systems, this deficiency is easily identified and treated, although it can tend to be overlooked. In underdeveloped countries, the problem of iron-deficiency anemia is more widespread, especially among women and children. There’s much work to be done to address these systemic inequities.

    The problem with early symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia is you may not notice them; they tend to be quite mild. Per the American Society of Hematology, many don’t realize they have mild anemia until taking a routine blood test. Symptoms of moderate to more severe cases of iron-deficiency anemia may include:

    • Fatigue
    • Weakness
    • Pale skin
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath

    Who should take iron supplements?

    Individuals with a history of iron-deficiency anemia

    Individuals with a history of iron-deficiency anemia would be great candidates for iron supplementation. The dosage will vary depending on your physician’s specific recommendations. You should only supplement with iron after speaking to your doctor.

    Pregnant women

    During pregnancy, blood volume increases to support both the mother and the developing fetus. Because of this, the RDA increases to 27 mg a day for pregnant individuals, compared to just 18 mg per day for menstruating women.

    Menstruating women

    Iron deficiency is quite common among menstruating women. To combat this, iron supplements may be needed. However, it should only be taken if your doctor recommends you to do so.

    Vegetarians, vegans, and those whose diet is primarily plant-based

    As we briefly mentioned earlier, non-heme iron from plant-based sources can be harder for the body to absorb compared to heme iron found in animal products. Studies have found that among women who menstruate, vegetarians had a higher prevalence of iron deficiency than omnivores did. Because of this, people who follow plant-based diets may need to supplement their iron intake.

    Endurance athletes

    Endurance athletes, especially those who menstruate, may be more prone to anemia. The combination of menstrual blood loss and the demands of rigorous physical training can make them more susceptible.

    In some cases, intense physical training can induce or contribute to cases of anemia. Furthermore, athletes training at high altitudes may require iron supplementation, given the increased demands for red blood cells in environments with less oxygen.

    But, before starting supplementation, it’s best to measure iron levels (ferritin and iron) to get a baseline.

    Frequent blood donors

    Maintaining optimal iron levels is especially important for those who frequently donate blood. Donating blood often requires checking hemoglobin levels before donating to ensure the safety of both the donor and recipient. Due to the loss of red blood cells during each donation, there are restrictions in place on the frequency of donations. This safeguards against the potential development of anemia.

    Individuals with certain medical conditions or considerations

    There are certain medical conditions that can significantly impact an individual’s iron levels or their ability to properly absorb iron. Always discuss with your doctor about any risks associated with iron supplements. They will provide insights on the best way to address potential issues, ensuring that any supplementation is tailored to your specific needs.

    Other questions about iron supplementation

    How much iron do you need per day?

    The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is based on gender and certain life factors. For men, the RDA is 8 mg. For women and people who menstruate, it’s 18mg. For people who are pregnant, it’s 27 mg. And, for people who are breastfeeding, it’s 9mg.

    Individuals that might benefit from an iron supplement

    If low iron levels are a problem for you, you might want to consider talking to your doctor about iron supplementation. Iron supplements will make an impact more swiftly than a change in diet, making them the preferred treatment option in many cases. Supplements can be especially useful for those people who are prone to low iron levels, including:

    • Pregnant people
    • People who experience heavy periods
    • People taking medications that deplete iron levels
    • People who heavily exercise with some frequency
    • People following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet

    If you recognize yourself in any of these groups, you may be experiencing low iron levels. Consult with a medical professional to see if this problem applies to you. If it does, then an iron supplement may be your best bet for helping the problem.

    However, it’s important to only take iron supplements once they’ve been deemed necessary for your health. Otherwise, you may increase your iron intake beyond a healthy level, which creates its own set of problems, including problems with digestion and absorbing nutrients in your gut. Unnecessary use of iron supplements can result in more severe problems, too, including cell damage, organ failure, coma, or death. Side effects can happen to anyone, but are especially worrying for children. It is important to remember that not all iron supplements are meant for children. For example, Care/of supplements are for adults only. That’s why, again, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s dosage recommendations.

    How should you take an iron supplement?

    If your goal is to treat iron-deficiency anemia, then the typical treatment is to take daily oral iron supplements for at least three months. Talk to a medical professional first, because some doctors may advise you to keep taking iron supplements even after hemoglobin levels have returned to normal.

    The presence of other nutrients can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb iron. If you’re treating a deficiency, you’ll want to take an iron-only supplement.

    Avoid taking your iron supplement with tea, coffee, milk, or other foods that may inhibit absorption. Caffeine intake, in particular, may pose a problem.

    Vitamin C, however, helps enhance iron absorption. You can consider taking your supplement with orange juice, bell peppers, or other good sources of vitamin C.

    What is the best form of iron supplement to take?

    That’s the big question, and the answer is: Well, it depends on your specific health needs. Many forms of bioavailable iron are on the market. Some of the more popular options are ferrous and ferric iron salts; these include ferric sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate, and ferric citrate. Other forms, such as ferrous bisglycinate chelate, may be easier on the stomach.

    How can I boost my iron levels quickly?

    Like most good things in life, achieving the right iron levels can take some time. That’s especially so if you’re trying to address low levels. Your doctor can recommend a plan that’s tailored to your specific needs. In general, iron-deficiency anemia is treated with a daily supplement for up to three months in order to replenish tissue iron stores.

    How much iron should I take in supplement form?

    That depends. If you have an iron deficiency, it’s commonly recommended that you take iron in split-up daily doses to reach your daily goal. According to the NIH, the upper limit of safe iron supplementation is 45mg but dosages may vary depending on individual recommendations.

    That being said, studies suggest that taking smaller doses once daily and taking iron every other day may increase absorption and tolerability. As always, you should ask a healthcare provider for specific dosing instructions, tailored to your particular needs. Don’t take high-dose iron pills unless recommended and monitored by a healthcare professional, as side effects from iron toxicity can be severe.

    Is it OK to take iron supplements every day?

    Once again, this depends! For those who need it – as recommended by a doctor – it can absolutely be OK. Most people don’t take iron every day, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It’s all about checking your facts and running your situation by a professional. Taking too much iron can lead to iron toxicity, which can have side effects.

    If you have low iron stores, or if you have inadequate dietary iron intake – maybe you’re committed to a vegan diet – you may benefit from a daily iron supplement that can keep you at optimal levels.

    As always, check with your doctor for advice about dosing and how often you should be taking your supplement.

    What can I take with iron supplements to avoid constipation?

    One side effect of iron supplements can be constipation. You may be wondering – is there any way to avoid that? Well, there are some steps you can try. You can break your recommended dose into smaller doses throughout the day, and you can stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is crucial.

    Some doctors may also recommend starting off by taking half your recommended dose and building up over time. You should also consider the form of iron you’re purchasing before you start to take it. Ferrous sulfate, for example, is a form of iron that’s more likely to cause constipation than other forms, like iron bisglycinate chelate.

    What are the possible side effects of taking iron?

    Iron can be toxic if taken in very high doses. It’s important to figure out your proper dose with the help of a healthcare professional before you commence your iron supplement routine. You should also discuss which iron supplements are more likely to cause side effects.

    Some potential side effects caused by taking iron supplements can include:

    • Diarrhea
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Constipation

    To avoid side effects and toxicity, you should try not to exceed the established Tolerable Upper Intake Levels for iron supplements – unless advised to do so by a doctor. The levels are:

    • 40mg per day for babies and kids
    • 45mg per day for teens and adults

    Iron-related side effects can be especially troublesome for children. Moreover, a young child can easily mistake iron supplements for candy and ingest too much, which can be fatal.

    The Bottom Line

    Iron is an essential mineral that is needed for the production of red blood cells, oxygen transport throughout the body, and overall cellular functioning. Iron is found naturally in various foods, yet certain people might require additional intake through supplements. Depending on specific requirements, some might opt for standalone iron supplements, which offer a targeted boost, while others might find multivitamins with lower iron doses more appropriate.

    Certain groups like pregnant women, menstruating women, vegetarians, endurance athletes, may have heightened iron needs. Since too much iron can be toxic, it’s necessary to speak with your doctor before starting supplementation. They can measure your baseline levels and provide you with the best recommendations for your specific needs.

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    Dr. Pragati Gusmano, ND
    Formulator and Medical Researcher
    Dr. Gusmano is a licensed naturopathic physician. She received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University and has over a decade of experience in nutrition and the natural products industry. Her clinical interests include lifestyle medicine, optimizing nutrition at all stages of life, pediatrics, and mind-body medicine. In her free time, you’ll find her outside connecting with nature, spending time with her two children, and cooking plant-based meals.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.