What’s the Best Iron Supplement?

A Quick Guide on What You Need to Know

Not all iron pills are created equally — read on to find out how to pick the best one for your nutritional needs.

Ideally, we’d get all of our nutrients from whole food sources, including iron. But many people either need extra iron for health reasons or their diet doesn’t have ample amounts of this vital mineral.

That’s where supplements come in handy, but it’s not as easy as grabbing the first bottle you see off the shelves. Supplements come in all shapes and sizes; some are even in the gummies that remind you of your childhood vitamins.

But which ones should you take, and should you take one? We’ll run down everything you need to know about iron supplements in this handy guide.

Why Take an Iron Supplement?

Iron is a mineral that’s vital to your health. All of your cells contain some iron, but most of the iron in your body is in your red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen from your lungs to the organs and tissues.

Iron has a role in creating energy from nutrients. It also contributes to the transmission of nerve impulses — the signals that coordinate the actions of different parts of your body. If you have more iron than is needed, it’s stored in your body for future use.

The average American gets all the iron they need from their food. However, certain situations and conditions may require adding supplemental iron to your diet.

Iron deficiency anemia is caused by insufficient iron in your red blood cells. Without healthy iron levels, your red blood cells cannot effectively provide oxygen to your cells and tissues.

Symptoms of anemia include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • difficulty concentrating

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia in the United States. Almost five million Americans have it.

Common causes of anemia include:

  • menstruation, mainly if the flow is heavy or prolonged
  • peptic ulcer disease
  • cancer in the digestive tract
  • blood loss from trauma or blood donation
  • gastrointestinal bleeding from prolonged use of medications like aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Unhealthy diet

Let’s look at the word itself if you’re wondering if you should take a supplement.

As we said, you’d typically want to get all your nutrients from your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, which should have a good mix of vitamins and minerals. However, certain people may find that difficult due to lifestyle or diet choices.

For example, you’re a busy executive with little time to decide what to eat. Your meals may not contain Vitamin C, iron, or folate. In this case, supplements will help round out your nutrition intake.

Similarly, someone with a plant-based lifestyle can find ways to ensure they’re getting a good amount of iron, but depending on their height and weight, that could not be easy. They probably lack enough Vitamin B12, which helps produce our blood cells’ genetic materials, and they would have to take a supplement.

But let’s say you’re an omnivore who eats a well-rounded diet, gets enough sleep, and maintains an active lifestyle. There’s probably no reason for you to take an iron supplement—but only a nutritionist or physician can confirm if you’re getting all the nutrients you need.

Iron Supplements and Dosages — More than Meets the Eye

You’re scanning the supplement aisle and spot a bottle that says each serving contains 50 mg of iron. “Great,” you tell yourself, “that’s just about what I need for the entire day.” Believe it or not, you’re not getting 50 mg from that supplement. Let us explain.

There’s something called “bioavailability,” essentially how effective any drug or supplement is when it enters your body’s system. Several things can affect bioavailability, from your supplement (capsule vs oral spray) to your gut health.

In other words, one person who takes a 50 mg iron supplement may get 25-35 mg at the end of the day, and another person taking the same dose could get less or more.

For the sake of this article, we will focus on the bioavailability factors of the supplements themselves. But it’s important to note that supplements aren’t magic. If you’re not caring for your overall health, you may still experience anemia symptoms such as fatigue, pallor, irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath.

What Type of Iron Supplement Should I Take?

There are many types of iron supplements, and you should have blood work completed and then discuss the results with your nutritionist or physician to decide which ones are best for you. For most people, though, you’ll want to find a supplement that contains all the cofactors; Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Folic acid which all aid to build blood. The iron in Opti-Fe+ is in the bis-glycinate form which is the most absorbable form of iron that causes less constipation and digestive upset.

Opti-Fe+ also contains a good amount of elemental iron. This will be the total amount of iron that your body can, in theory, absorb (again, bioavailability will bring down that number at the end of the day).

How Long Should I Take an Iron Supplement?

Excess iron intake can have as many health risks as iron deficiency, including digestive issues, vomiting, stomach ulcers, and organ damage. Talk with your healthcare provider to devise a plan for how long and often you should take an iron supplement along with lab work to see where your levels are.

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