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Importance of Iron Supplements: Why You Might Need It?

importance of iron supplements

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Iron has a role in generating nutrient capacity. It also leads to nerve impulse transmission, the signals that guide the behavior of various parts of your body. If you have more iron than you need, it will be stored for future use in your body. In this article, we will discuss the importance of iron supplements.

You Might have Iron Deficiency (Anemia)

Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the material that brings oxygen from your lungs into your bloodstream via red blood cells. Hemoglobin is about two-thirds of the iron of the body. If you don’t have enough iron, the body cannot make enough healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen. A lack of red blood cells is called anemia, which is iron deficiency (1).

Common causes of anemia:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding from prolonged use of medications.
  • Heavy or prolonged flow while menstruation.
  • Peptic ulcer disease.
  • Frequently blood donation.
  • Stomach cancer.

Anemia signs and symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating

You Have an Infant Baby

Babies are developing excess iron stores from their mothers while in the womb. They use such stores when they are breastfeeding during their first six months of life. When your baby is 6 months old, add iron-fortified foods to their diet.

Many pediatricians consider using an iron-fortified formula when feeding your baby with bottles. It is likely that premature babies who have not had time to build their iron stores will need additional iron. Before giving your baby iron-fortified formula, please consult with your pediatrician.

Pregnant Women Need Much More Iron

Women who are not pregnant or nursing need to take 15 to 18 mg iron daily. Women who are pregnant need more iron. The recommended dietary allowance of iron for pregnant women is 27 milligrams per day (2).

If you’re worried that you don’t get enough iron, don’t double on your prenatal vitamins. This may cause you to get too many other nutrients and may damage your child. Instead, discuss with your doctor about taking an iron supplement with other prenatal vitamins.

Related: Supplements In Pregnancy: All You Need To Know

Menstruation Depletes Iron Stores in the Body

This is one reason that women have higher rates of anemia than men. Some research suggests that anemia is associated with ethnicity as a risk factor. About 19% of African-American and Mexican-American women are estimated to be anemic. Compared with 9 to12 percent of white women who are not Hispanic (3, 4, 5).

You May Have ADHD

Research in 2014 found that iron deficiency is associated with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The researchers found children with ADHD had lower levels of iron and ferritin. Ferritin helps to store iron for later use inside the cells (6).

Women Athletes are at an Increased Risk of Iron Deficiency

According to the study, women athletes are at an increased risk of iron deficiency. The exact reason behind it is unknown. Researchers theorize athletes may need more red blood cells to carry oxygen so they can continue to exercise. Talk to your doctor if you are very busy and have anemia-related symptoms (7).

You are Taking Iron Depleting Medications

Some drugs may interfere with the ability of your body to absorb iron.

Here is the list of medicines capable of depleting iron:

  • Antibiotics
  • Medicine for stomach problems
  • cholesterol-lowering medicine
  • Medicine for high blood pressure

If you’re concerned about anemia affecting one of your medications, see your doctor. Unless they instruct you to do so, do not avoid taking medication.

Regular Blood Loss

People who have an excessive loss of blood often need additional iron. There is a risk for regular blood donors and those with gastrointestinal bleeding. Medicines or disorders such as ulcers and cancer may cause gastrointestinal bleeding. We do not recommend it to donate blood if you are low on iron.

Patients on Dialysis Require Extra Iron

Most patients on the dialysis of the kidney require extra iron. It is the kidneys that produce erythropoietin, a hormone that allows the body to make red blood cells. Anemia is often a side effect if the kidneys don’t function.

During dialysis, you may lose a slight amount of blood. Yet diets with dialysis also restrict the consumption of iron. Many medicines that people take on dialysis may interfere with the ability of the body to absorb iron.

We strongly recommend talking to your doctor if you are on dialysis about how to maintain safe levels of blood iron.

ACE Inhibitor Associated Cough

To treat several conditions, doctors prescribe ACE inhibitors.

Here is the list of diseases:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Mild kidney disease

In those with type 2 diabetes, ACE inhibitors can even help prevent kidney disease. A dry cough is ACE inhibitors’ common side effect.

A study shows that people who took 200 milligrams of ferrous sulfate supplement daily, at least two hours after taking their ACE inhibitor, were less likely to have a cough (8).

The researchers found the amount of nitric oxide in the blood increased by taking iron. Nitric oxide helps to reduce the cough associated with the ACE inhibitor.

The Bottom Line

Many people respond well to iron supplements available in capsules. Some people with tiny iron levels may require intravenous iron. Therefore, make sure you must take the correct iron dosage. Too much can be harmful to children in particular. So talk to your doctor about how long an iron supplement you need to take.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is iron, and why does my body need it?


Iron is a mineral found naturally in the human body, in many foods we eat, and in supplements or multivitamins. Iron has many roles in the human body, such as helping to create new red blood cells (RBCs) and helping the entire body to carry oxygen.

Hemoglobin (Hb), a protein that carries oxygen throughout RBCs throughout the body. Iron is part of hemoglobin and allows this function to be accomplished. The reason red blood cells are red is hemoglobin!

How are iron and blood donation related?


Because hemoglobin is part of RBCs (red blood cells) and iron is part of hemoglobin, donors lose some iron in each blood donation.

How are iron levels measured?


Normally, blood iron levels are measured by the ferritin blood test. Although iron is present in hemoglobin, measuring the level of hemoglobin is not the same as testing the iron levels of your body.

How do I know if I have low iron?


If you are low in iron, the only way is to talk to your health care provider who will prescribe a blood test for ferritin to show your iron level. Low iron may have symptoms such as feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, feeling restless legs especially at night, and/or eating non-food substances such as ice, chalk or other substances (known as pica). There are no signs in many people with low iron.

Are taking iron supplements safe?


Before you start any new iron supplement, talk to your healthcare provider. Taking high doses of iron can lead to side effects such as vomiting, constipation, and abdominal pain–but these side effects are unlikely to occur when taking iron-containing multivitamins or taking iron supplements with low doses (~19 mg).

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Marwa Khan MS
Marwa Khan is a licensed dietitian nutritionist and editor at DefatX. She writes for several national publications where she promotes women’s health, healthy living, and body positivity.
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