If you’ve ever taken an iron supplement, you’ve probably experienced some not-so-fun side effects. We’re talking constipation, bloating, gas — you might call it a gastro-intestinal nightmare.
But for those of us who have iron deficiencies, supplements are often the most effective way to boost our iron intake and keep our health in check.
So, why exactly do most iron supplements for anemia cause these side effects? And what can you do about it? This blog breaks down everything you need to know, including what makes a good iron supplement, well, good.
First, let’s talk about anemia.
Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. Women have a much higher risk of developing anemia, especially those who are prone to long periods with heavy bleeding. Seriously, did you ever think a lack of blood would be the problem with your period? *eye roll*
But anemia can also affect men, especially if their diet doesn’t include foods that are packed with iron or help with iron absorption. In other words, if you live off a diet of coffee and cereal, you might find yourself with fewer red blood cells.
The secret to fighting anemia? Iron. Iron is an essential element for blood production. It also boosts the immune system, aids cognitive function, and supports healthy skin, hair, and nails. Most people can fulfill their iron needs through food, such as meat. But not all of us are interested in stocking up on liver and bison burgers. So, what’s the alternative?
Enter, iron supplements.
Iron supplements are a great way to battle anemia and reverse an iron deficiency, especially if diet changes alone are unsuccessful. Usually taken orally, iron supplements help to build red blood cells and keep your iron levels balanced.
This increase in iron can also improve brain function, from basic learning to memory. But before you rush off to stock your online cart with the first supplement brand you can find, it’s important to know why certain brands lead to unpleasant side effects. It’s also important to talk to your doctor to make sure you take the amount of iron you need, as too much iron also has its share of negative health implications.
Why do most iron supplements cause gastro-intestinal (GI) side effects?
There are multiple factors that can play a role in whether or not you experience GI side effects from taking oral iron. Some of the most common factors include:
- The form of iron in your supplement
- The dose you take
- How and when you take iron
- The current state of your microbiota (also known as your bacteria or gut flora)
The simplest answer, however, is unabsorbed iron. For an iron supplement to be properly absorbed, it has to reach your intestine (where it then gets absorbed into your lymphatic stream and released into your liver). But before it gets there, your stomach acids will try to break it down. That’s when it becomes unabsorbed iron.
On top of that, some of our favourite healthy foods can actually inhibit iron absorption, such as spinach, nuts, beans, and egg whites. That’s a major bummer if you thought your new diet was #goals.
Although unabsorbed iron is eliminated naturally when we go to the bathroom, it can wreak havoc before it leaves our system. Side effects like cramps (great), diarrhea (fantastic), and nausea (sign me up) are just a few of the GI issues caused by low iron absorption.
Can iron supplements cause gastritis?
If those side effects weren’t enough, gastritis can be another painful result of unabsorbed iron.
Gastritis involves inflammation of the lining of the stomach and upper abdominal pain. In some cases, it can even lead to internal bleeding and stomach ulcers. While gastritis from oral iron supplements is rarer than other GI side effects, it’s important to consider when choosing which supplement to take.
What is the recommended dose to avoid side effects?
First thing’s first, ask your doctor for their recommendation. They know your body and health history best and can provide a personalized suggestion to help you steer clear of side effects.
If you already know you’re sensitive to iron, start with half the recommended dosage provided by your doc. Then slowly increase your dosing every few days, as tolerated, until you reach your daily intake.
Remember, the cells that line your intestine can only absorb a certain amount of iron at a time. If they get bombarded, that increases the risk of unabsorbed iron and painful GI problems. Avoid iron overloading by spacing out your doses and trying not to exceed 150 mg of iron per dose.
And most of all, take your iron supplements with food whenever you can. An empty stomach can increase your chances of GI pain, discomfort, and a whole lot of unabsorbed iron.
What supplements don’t cause GI side effects?
So, how do you know which iron supplements will give you the iron boost you need while minimizing side effects? It all comes down to the coating and the form.
For example, Ferosom Forte is an iron supplement brand that has developed proprietary technology to give their supplements an extra layer of protection against stomach acids. Ferosom’s LCE coating is like an iron bodyguard, shielding the supplement as it travels through the digestive system. This means more iron can be absorbed into your intestine and you can skip the constipation and nausea.
Plus, Ferosom is microencapsulated in Liposomal form, which means it doesn’t have to be converted for your body to absorb it. This leads to incredibly high, IV-level absorption rates. And as we know, the more iron your body can absorb, the less side effects you’ll experience and the more balanced your iron levels will be.
Learn more about Ferosom Forte and how it can improve your iron journey: https://www.ferosomcanada.com/