Iron Supplements for Anemia

Karen Frazier
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Iron supplements

If you've been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor has probably recommend you begin supplementing iron. Using iron supplements to treat anemia can help you to begin to feel better.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

The CDC notes iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, when your body lacks sufficient iron, it is unable to produce enough hemoglobin for the red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. The resulting condition, iron deficiency anemia, can lead to fatigue, lethargy, weakness, and a number of other unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms may be mild or quite severe, depending on how depleted your red blood cells are.

Supplementing Iron to Treat Anemia

While your physician will want to understand the cause of your anemia and may order further testing, he or she will also recommend you take iron supplements in order to begin to rebuild your red blood cells.

Recommended Dosage

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database recommends that adults with iron deficiency take between 50 and 100 mg elemental iron three times per day. Children with iron deficiency should take 4-6 mg per day, divided into three separate doses.

Dosage by Type

Different iron types of supplements contain varying volumes of elemental iron, depending on the type of iron used. Since iron supplements contain different amounts of elemental iron per volume, dosage may vary depending on the type of iron you take.

Read supplement labels to determine the type of iron you are taking and find the correct dosage. While the table below gives general recommendations, it is important to talk to your doctor about the type of iron you are taking in order to supplement appropriately.

Type of Iron % Elemental Iron Dose Amount of Iron Recommended Dosage Adults Recommended Dosage Children
Ferrous gluconate 12 percent 1 gram 120 mg elemental iron 400 to 800 mg three times per day 32 to 48 milligrams divided over three doses
Ferrous sulfate 20 percent 1 gram 200 mg elemental iron 250 to 500 mg three times per day 20 to 30 mg divided over three doses
Ferrous fumarate 33 percent 1 gram 330 mg elemental iron 150 to 300 mg three times per day 12 to 18 mg divided over three doses

Absorption

In some cases, part of the reason your iron levels are low may be due to poor absorption of iron from foods and supplements. The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) explains that different factors affect iron absorption, including existing stores of iron, nutrients taken with the iron, and the method of delivery (from food, supplementation, etc.). ODS suggests the following things taken with iron may enhance absorption:

  • Vitamin C
  • Meat protein

Likewise, some foods or substances taken with iron may decrease absorption including:

  • Tannins (found in tea or red wine)
  • Calcium
  • Phytates (in grains and legumes)
  • Soy proteins

Forms of Supplements

Iron supplements come in many forms. Below are the most common forms, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements:

Type Pros Cons
Extended Release/Coated Capsules and Tablets

Fewer side effects

Poor absorption

Regular Capsules and Tablets

Most economical

Best absorbed

Difficult to swallow for some
Drops/Liquids

Best for children

Best for people who have trouble swallowing pills

More expensive

May temporarily stain teeth

Don't taste great

Side Effects

Iron supplementation may have side effects, including:

  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Constipation
  • Back pain
  • Chest pain
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Flushing
  • Skin flushing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Metallic taste
  • Throat swelling

Talk to your doctor if you are taking iron and experience any of the above symptoms.

Toxicity

If you take iron, overdose and toxicity are possible, so it's important you work with your doctor once you are diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia. Complications of iron overdose include:

  • Black or bloody stool
  • Vomiting blood
  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Shock
  • Dehydration

Work with your doctor to carefully control iron dosage. Your doctor will also likely recommend regular blood tests to monitor your condition.

Finding the Right Iron Supplement

With so many types and brands of iron supplements, it may be confusing to consumers about which iron is best for them. That's why it's so important to consult with your doctor to find the right type of iron for your health needs. Some brands to consider include:

  • Feosol contains ferrous sulfate, the type of iron doctors most commonly recommend. The brand has three formulations, so it's easy to find the one that works best for your unique circumstances.
  • NovaFerrum is a liquid iron supplement that may be more readily absorbed by the body than other types of iron. Because it is liquid, it is also easier to customize dosage.
  • Vitron-C contains 65 mg of elemental iron per dose, as well as vitamin C to enhance absorption.

Prescription Iron Supplements

Your doctor may also provide a prescription for iron supplements. These formulations tend to contain higher doses of iron, and they may contain other ingredients to help your body better cope with the side effects of iron supplementation. For example, they may contain a stool softener or ingredients to help enhance absorption. Take prescription medications exactly as recommended by your doctor.

Returning to Health

Iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling weak and exhausted. Work closely with your doctor to determine the underlying cause of the iron deficiency and receive appropriate treatment. Follow his or her recommended supplementation schedule in order to ensure the quickest possible return to good health.

Iron Supplements for Anemia