Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anaemia, the main symptom of which is tiredness and fatigue. There are many reasons why you might be low on iron, including genetics and dietary choices. You can prevent these unfortunate symptoms by ensuring you take enough iron in through your diet. However, increasing your iron intake can be quite difficult. It’s especially tough if you follow a restrictive diet, such as a vegan diet. In this article, we’re going to cover five main things that you should know before buying an iron supplement. This’ll include what iron does in the body, when you should take it, and how you should take it, too. We also cover off on some potential side effects to be aware of, as well.
What Does Iron Do in the Body?
Iron is an essential mineral for the body and it has a lot of functions. Around 70% of the iron found in your body resides in your red blood cells as part of haemoglobin and muscle fibres as part of myoglobin. Iron’s main role is to help carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Once the oxygenated red blood cells reach your muscle fibres, the oxygen is accepted by myoglobin so it can be stored and used in the cells. The other 30% of iron is either stored as ferritin or forms parts of complex proteins called enzymes within the cells.
If you are low on iron, the body struggles to get oxygen where it needs it. And that’s why a lack of iron can lead to a persistent feeling of fatigue and tiredness. If you know anyone who always seems lethargic and weak, it could be that they need to try taking some vegan iron supplements!
When Should You Take Iron Supplements?
The recommended amount of iron is 8.7 mg a day for adult males and 14.8 mg a day for adult females up to 50 years old. After 50, females require the same amount of iron each day as men.
Although you can find iron in many different foods, many people struggle to get adequate amounts of iron in their diet. Not only this, but only 10% of the iron that you consume in your diet is actually absorbed by the body and this makes it much harder for people to meet their daily needs.
In these cases, a liquid iron supplement or vitamins with iron might be necessary to prevent iron deficiency. The most common type of iron found in these supplements is ferrous sulphate.
So, how do you know if you need to start taking liquid iron? It can be difficult to determine whether or not you are suffering from iron deficiency anaemia because many of the symptoms overlap with a range of other conditions. Even if you aren’t suffering from another health condition, it’s easy to blame your stressful lifestyle or tough workout regime as being the cause of your symptoms.
However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should consult your doctor. Get a blood test taken and this can reveal if you have low hemoglobin levels, and therefore require more iron in your diet.
According to the NHS, iron deficiency symptoms include:
- Brittle nails
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling sluggish
- Mild memory loss
- Muscle weakness
- Pale skin
- Poor appetite
- Poor circulation (resulting in cold hands and feet)
- Restless leg syndrome (this is very common in pregnant women)
In severe cases, you may experience difficulty swallowing or unusual cravings. If you suspect that you have low iron, book a consultation with your doctor. Some choose to self-prescribe an over-the-counter iron supplement immediately, however.
Can Iron Pills Increase Ferritin Levels?
Ferritin is a protein in your blood that stores and releases iron in your body. Most ferritin resides inside your cells, unlike iron which is found predominantly in the blood. It’s usually your blood levels of ferritin that are measured by your doctor to determine how much iron is stored in your body. If you have low ferritin levels, it can indicate iron deficiency. The symptoms of low ferritin and low iron are extremely similar because if you have low ferritin levels, you won’t be able to store as much iron in your body.
Studies show varying results when it comes to using iron supplements to increase ferritin levels. Some studies indicate that taking iron supplements will increase your ferritin levels, as well as your haemoglobin and haematocrit levels. However, other studies saw no significant increase in ferritin or haemoglobin levels after several weeks of oral liquid iron supplementation.
It’s best to inform your doctor in as much detail as you can regarding your symptoms and medical history. They can then determine which type of supplement is best for your needs.
Five Things to Know Before Taking Iron
#1 Continue taking iron supplements after your levels return to normal
When you’re taking liquid iron supplements, your doctor will closely monitor the levels of iron in your blood. After just two weeks of supplementation, your iron levels can return to normal but your doctor will most likely continue your prescription for at least six months. Otherwise, your iron levels may simply return to the low levels you started at.
#2 Iron can interact with other foods and medications
The amount of iron that is absorbed from your iron deficiency tablets can be affected by certain foods in your diet. Consulting your doctor or dietitian is essential as they will be able to advise you on the right foods to eat with your supplements.
Iron can also interact with other medications in the body and this can reduce its bioavailability, meaning you absorb less iron from your supplements. The following medications may decrease iron absorption:
- Antacids, such as TUMS or Rolaids
- H2 receptor blockers, such as cimetidine, famotidine, and ranitidine
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as lansoprazole and omeprazole
Iron may reduce the absorption and effectiveness of these medications:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen
- Allopurinol (Zyloprim)
- Antibiotics, including tetracyclines and quinolones
- ACE inhibitors, such as captopril and lisinopril
Your doctor or dietitian may tell you to avoid taking these foods and drinks with your iron medicine liquid supplements. This is because they can reduce its absorption in the gut. Avoid foods which are:
- Rich in calcium
- Contain phytates or phytic acid, including many whole grains
- High in oxalic acid, such as chocolate and some nuts
- containing tannins, including corn products and grapes
- Highly caffeinated, such as tea or coffee
- Dairy products
#3 Your Doctor Might Prescribe Liquid Iron Supplements if You’re Pregnant
Suffering from iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature births, low birth weight, or postpartum depression. If you are pregnant, your doctor will prescribe you some liquid iron and folic acid supplements to prevent anaemia. You will also find iron in many pregnancy supplements, too. And if you are pregnant, definitely make sure you are taking folic acid during the first 12 weeks!
#4 Iron Supplements Might Cause Some Side Effects
Any form of iron supplementation, whether it’s liquid iron or iron gummy vitamins, can result in side effects if you take more than the daily recommended dose. Some of the most common adverse effects of taking iron include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Darkened stool
You might be following the daily guidelines and still experiencing some of these symptoms. If you have a sensitive stomach, you may find taking iron pills give you abdominal cramps and constipation. If this sounds like you, perhaps try a kinder supplement like the Solgar Gentle Iron. It’s specifically designed to be kinder to sensitive stomachs.
#5 Iron Supplements May or May Not Help With Hair Loss
A common question amongst women, in particular, is ‘can iron supplements stop hair loss?’. The research suggests that iron may help with hair growth. Many studies indicate that iron supplements can help you to get thicker and healthier hair.
It’s difficult to determine how effective iron supplements are for hair loss because there are many causes for thinning or brittle hair. If the hair loss is not caused by iron deficiency, liquid iron supplementation may not be very effective. If you are a vegan or vegetarian and your struggle to eat adequate amounts of iron in your diet, taking iron vegan gummies may promote healthy hair growth.
Try Vegan Iron Supplements
Now we’ve covered the most important things to know before taking an iron capsule, liquid or gummy. Should you be struggling with fatigue all the time, this natural supplement could be the solution for you. Of course, speak to a Doctor before choosing anything for peace of mind. You can also read the GreenBox review of the 7 Best Vegan Iron Supplements to Try to pick the right product for you. Below, however, is the GreenBox range of iron supplements: