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Signs Iron Pills Are Working

4th Jun, 2020  |  Micheal Brennan  |  Balanced Diet, Lifestyle

Iron is essential to life supporting many essential functions in the human body. The key role for iron is the formation of haemoglobin which supports oxygen transport around the body. We get iron from our food particularly red meat, fish and shellfish whilst green leafy vegetables such as spinach are also a good source of iron. A healthy balanced diet should ensure we have sufficient iron in our diets however in some cases supplementation may be necessary. When taking a supplement people often wonder if their iron pills are working.

Who should consider taking iron supplements?

If our iron intake is lower than our iron use, we can experience a lowering of our iron levels. This can happen for a variety of reasons and is either a result of not absorbing enough iron or due to using an excess of iron. An indicator that you may not have optimum iron levels is tiredness and fatigue.

The people most likely to need an iron supplement are pregnant and menstruating women. People who follow restricted diets e.g. vegetarians. Iron supplementation is also important for avid exercisers and sports people e.g. marathon runners, cyclists and endurance athletes.

The types of iron supplements that are available:

There are many of types of iron supplements available to buy. They can come in capsule, tablet or liquid form. Regardless of your preference in terms of form there are a number of important considerations that you should be aware of before making your choice.

Firstly, the quantity of iron per dose should also be considered, 14mg is the recommended daily allowance for women of child bearing age, whilst men require 8.4mg daily (1). Secondly check whether the supplement you are choosing is likely to cause side effects, iron side effects are common so it is important to choose an iron supplement that will be gentle on your stomach. Finally, liquid iron whilst easy to consume can cause teeth staining.

How to take iron pills to ensure correct absorption:

When choosing an iron supplement it is best to choose a stand-alone iron rather than taking iron as part of a multivitamin, this is because the other vitamins and minerals contained in multivitamins can inhibit the absorption of iron.

When taking your iron supplement it is important to take them correctly to ensure the correct absorption. Firstly, do not take your iron supplement with any foods which can inhibit their absorption and reduce their effectiveness. Iron should never be taken with tea or coffee. It should also not be taken with milk or with calcium supplements. It is recommended that iron is taken with Vitamin C which is known to improve iron absorption. To achieve this take you iron supplement with juice.

When choosing an iron supplement it is important to choose one that it is strong on absorption whilst reducing the impact of the gut irritation commonly caused by iron. The more effective the absorption the less excess iron that remains in your gastro-intestinal tract thus reducing the risk of oxidative stress which is the primary cause of side effects.

The signs that your iron supplements are working

It can be difficult to know if your iron supplements are working well so it’s important to remember that iron in the body is stored in two ways. Firstly, as storage iron in our liver and secondly as transport or circulating iron (haemogloblin) in our blood. When our iron intake is low it is our storage iron that is depleted first which means we have lower reserves of iron. It can take up to 3 months to replenish storage iron.

As tiredness or a lack of energy (fatigue) is commonly associated with a diet low in iron, it is likely to be the first change you notice when you take an iron supplement” (2). If your iron supplement is working you should notice an increase in energy levels however when this will occur varies from person to person and is dependent on how much storage or transport iron has been depleted.

When your iron supplement is working you should have more energy, better concentration and a healthier immune system (3).

Signs that your iron supplement may not be working

If you continue to experience the effects of suboptimal iron levels such as tiredness and fatigue, it may indicate that your iron supplements are not working (4).

One of the key reasons your iron supplement may not be working is because you are not taking it regularly or have stopped the course. Experiencing side effects is one of the main reasons people stop taking iron tablets. Side effects such as constipation and nausea are common with iron tablets. Some people stop completely whilst others take their iron infrequently. If you stop taking your iron tablets early or you only take them infrequently you may cause them not to work.

By choosing an iron supplement that is gentle on your stomach you can take your iron supplement daily and ensure you achieve optimum absorption and thus ensure they are working correctly.

How do I know how much iron I need in my supplements

Our daily requirement for iron depends on a number of factors; Women of child-bearing age have the highest need for iron with a daily requirement of 14.8mg. Whilst Men and post-menopausal women have a daily requirement of 8.7 mg (5).

It is important to ensure your supplement is giving you a sufficient amount of iron. Some people experience side effects especially from higher dose iron pills this is a result of poor absorption. The unabsorbed iron becomes oxidised and causes gut irritation which results in side effects such as constipation and nausea.

Is your iron supplement working well for you?

If you are not getting enough iron from your diet alone an iron supplement can help support your iron levels. An iron supplement that is working well should be easy to take with no side effects and you should have a noticeable increase in your energy levels.

When choosing an iron supplement it is important to choose one that is strong on absorption whilst being gentle on the stomach.

Active Iron with its ground-breaking protein formula delivers x2 better absorption than standard ferrous sulphate whilst its non-constipating formula helping to reduce gut irritation from iron (6).


(1) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/, accessed May 2020

(2) Tiredness/Fatigue maybe a symptom of other conditions, you should contact a health care profession if it persists.

(3) Iron helps support your energy metabolism, supports cognitive function and supports your immune system.

(4) These symptoms maybe signs of other conditions, you should contact a health care profession if they persist.

(5) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/, accessed May 2020.

(6) Wang et al, Acta Haematologica 2017

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