Can Iron Supplements Cause Diarrhea?

April 12, 2018

Jelly Jeff

Can Iron Supplements Cause Diarrhea?

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Iron is one of the essential micronutrients which not only helps build up the body but also keeps it safe from infection. Also, the shortage of this element could cause plenty of severe disorders like anemia, insufficient immunity and maybe subfertility. Thus, we must always remember to add high iron contain foods in our diet, and sometimes we have to reinforce the iron storage by supportive products.

However, there are many reports about the side effects of these products, including one of the most concerned question: Can Iron Supplements Cause Diarrhea. So, today we will discuss this topic, not only how iron can induce diarrhea but also how to avoid it.

Why Do We Have To Have Iron Supplement?

Iron help developing red blood cell

Iron is one of the leading elements that form the human hemoglobin in the red blood cells and participate in oxygen delivery pathway. Hence, once the body is out of iron, the level of hemoglobin is downward, the red blood cells cannot ensure their function, and soon your body will fall into a condition called “anemia”.

In women and adolescent girls, the menstrual cycle happens monthly, which makes they lose an average of 30 to 40 ml of blood each period, leading to a high prevalence of anemia in these subjects. Therefore, according to WHO [1], adult women and adolescent girl should supplement 30 to 60 mg of elemental iron daily to maintain the number of the red blood cell and ensure its function.

There are plenty of iron supplements; therefore if you want to look for a reliable reference, you can follow these post BEST LIQUID IRON SUPPLEMENT, “BEST HEME IRON SUPPLEMENT”.

Iron increase energy metabolism

Our body always has to generate energy to support the normal function of the organ system, and the unit that responsible for that turns out tiny, its named is the mitochondria. The mitochondria contain a variety enzyme system which participates in the energy synthesis and iron is one of the core elements of these enzymes.

Iron increase energy metabolism
Iron increase energy metabolism

When the body is out of iron, the regenerate of the crucial enzymes is slow down, cause the energy metabolism to decrease, and soon our all of the organ systems cannot keep up their function.  Furthermore, the shortage of iron storage could reduce the number of red blood cells, impair the oxygen delivery from the lungs to other organs, including the brain which depresses our consciousness.

Iron promote muscle development

One of the essential functions of iron is to build up our muscle. As I mentioned above, iron plays a vital role in forming enzymes which are critical to the metabolism which will enhance the muscle synthesis process. Besides, when the storage of iron is full, the number of red blood cells is maximized, so the muscle will get enough oxygen to expand and assure their functions.

If you want to know more about types of iron supplements for adults, kids and pregnant women, please click TOP BEST ABSORBED IRON SUPPLEMENT FOR ADULTS, KIDS AND PREGNANT WOMEN.

Iron boost the immunity system

It’s essential to know that iron is a core element of the enzyme system, which activates plenty of genes to react to the infection. Moreover, iron also plays an essential role in the development of immunity cells, such as lymphoid cells. With the shortage of iron level in the blood, both adaptive and innate immunity system response will be suppressed, the infection will be prolonged, and the complications would be more severe.

Iron improve mentality

We might not notice that iron affect our emotional behavior and believe me, it does. Iron is highly concentrated in some parts of the brain, including the basal ganglia, which respond to GABA and Dopamine synthesis.

Without iron, the brain cannot fully develop during the mid and late neonatal periods. Thus, it could not ensure its function. Besides, in fully grown adult, iron deficiency can lead to the lack of GABA and Dopamine, two of the mood regulation neurotransmitters, and worsen the emotional behavior.

Iron help building up a healthy pregnancy

As we all know, during the pregnancy, the expansion of the plasma fluid in pregnant women can easily make they fall into anemia state without iron supplement. Subsequently, the lack of red blood cells will reduce the oxygen transportation not only to the embryo but also to the mother. Therefore, all of the metabolic processes will slow down, and the fetus cannot normally grow.

Besides, the lowered iron state of the newborn could persist for about a year, and anemia is the consequence. Iron deficiency anemia could make a significant impact on childhood development; many research shows out that the risk for a cognitive, social-emotional and adaptive function is likely to increase. Moreover, other studies show they even delay in both language and motor development.

So, all of the pregnant women should get an iron supplement before and during gestation to keep the newborn healthy and have a healthy development.

Overall, iron may be a micronutrient, but it provides multiple of upgrades to your body, including bringing the protection to the maternal and support the newborn during and after the pregnancy. Thus, you should keep in mind to full-fill the iron storage and reinforce it in some particular situations like in pregnancy or infection.

Please click here if you are wondering about HOW TO TAKE IRON SUPPLEMENTS FOR BEST ABSORPTION.

Can Iron Supplements Cause Diarrhea?

I can say that this is one of the most concerned questions while using iron supplements and there are plenty of explanations to this topic. The side effects of adding iron were studied years ago, and actually, the famous adverse impact on the digestive system is constipation. In fact, to reduce this unwanted consequence, pharmaceutical companies added some herbal or some chemical compounds to their products, and it could cause people to get diarrhea when they use the iron supplements.

There are a lot of explanations about how can iron cause constipation, and it remains a controversial topic so, in this post, I will not take a broad discussion about this issue. However, I can say that not everyone would have constipation or diarrhea after taking the iron supplements because it happens individually.

Furthermore, you should know when do iron supportive products cause diarrhea among plenty of others diarrhea etiologies. To begin, we can separate the diarrhea sources into two broad categories infection and non-infection, which including iron supplements.

Infectious diarrhea usually happens after you ate some unfriendly food like wasted food, raw dishes or it could happen after you eat something that you haven’t eaten before when you travel to a country. Meanwhile, non-infectious diarrhea is more correlated to the bowel inappropriate function itself, and it can happen after you take drugs, functional food, including iron supplements.

The symptoms of these two etiologies may be similar to each other, and it’s not easy to differentiate the cause of diarrhea. Therefore, you may only identify the infectious diarrhea base on the history of eating unfriendly food and using supportive iron products.

Also, there are some documents shows out that the chance to have the side effects depends on the amount of the product you take, so in next time, you should inform your clinician when it cause you to have nausea, vomit, constipation or diarrhea.

If you want more information about how can iron causes you constipated, please click here “DOES IRON MAKE YOU CONSTIPATED”.

What Are The Other Side Effects Of Iron?

Talk about unwanted effects; iron supplements could cause not only diarrhea but also some other severe side effects, especially when we add to much iron to our body, this condition is called “Iron Overload”. To be easier to understand, we can separate the side effects into two broad categories: Acute Iron Toxicity and Chronic Iron Toxicity [4].

Acute Iron Toxicity: this condition is caused by enriching too much iron in a short time, leading our body into a deathly situation which could evolve within hours after iron supplement. The damages are lethal, involve in

  • Mucosal cell necrosis
  • Impairment of capillary permeability
  • Alteration of the lipid membrane of mitochondria
  • Inhibition of enzymatic processes in the Krebs cycle

After years of study, the clinical manifestation is divided into different phases, depends on the distance after adding iron to the body:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) phase: 30 minutes to 6 hours after ingestion
  • Latent, or relative stability, phase: 6 to 24 hours after ingestion
  • Shock and metabolic acidosis: 6 to 72 hours after ingestion
  • Hepatotoxicity/hepatic necrosis: 12 to 96 hours after ingestion
  • Bowel obstruction: 2 to 8 weeks after ingestion

The more quantity of iron above the toxic dose, the more rapid the progressions are. Therefore, the determination of these phases should be done by the healthcare professional and by modern laboratory tests, not only by the time since the ingestion.

Chronic Iron Toxicity: inversely, this condition is caused by the accumulation of iron in multi-organs by months or years of over-using iron supplement. The consequences are may not reversible, making the organs involved reduce its functions gradually. These are some organs which could be affected by this situation:

  • Liver: can lead to cirrhosis.
  • Heart: can lead to heart failure.
  • Endocrine system: can lead to diabetes mellitus and other hormonal abnormalities.
overuse of iron supplements causes heart failure
Overuse of iron supplements causes heart failure

In conclusion, the over-using iron supplements can cause either acute or chronic damages, and both of them will end up reducing life quality and expectancy. Therefore, to avoid diarrhea and other side effects you should remember to use iron wisely and below the toxic dose. Please continue to read, I will mention about the toxic dose and how can you recognize the acute iron poisoning below.

How To Avoid Diarrhea When Using Iron Supplements?

How much iron do we need for a day

The easiest way to avoid the cause of diarrhea and other side effects is to reduce the number of iron supplements as much as possible, so it is essential to know how much iron is required by our body daily to maintain its functions.

In normal people, the demand for iron is different between sex, age and periods of life. According to the National Institute of Health [5], the provision of iron should follow the board below:

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
Birth to 6 months0.27 mg0.27 mg
7 – 12 months11 mg11 mg
1 – 3 years7 mg7 mg
4 – 8 years10 mg10 mg
9 – 13 years8 mg8 mg
14 – 18 years11 mg15 mg27 mg10 mg
19 – 50 years8 mg18 mg27 mg9 mg
51+ years8 mg8 mg

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Iron

Overall, the need of iron in male and female is similar before puberty and after menopause. During the period of 14 – 50 years, the menstruation happens monthly, causing the women to lose an average of 30 to 40 ml of blood each cycle, so they have to add more iron to their body to reserve the amount of red blood cell and its functions. Besides, during and after pregnancy the requirement of iron gets a little fluctuation because the women have to share their storage with their children.

This board provides a reference data for healthy people, and it has to be adjusted depending on each base on their condition. In elder people, some chronic diseases like chronic kidney disease, heart failure, the peptic ulcer can elevate the demand for iron, and the patient should be informed by the healthcare professional before using iron supplements.

How can we reinforce iron storage without getting diarrhea

As I discussed, the chance to get diarrhea while using iron supplements depends on the ingredients of the products and the sensitivity of each person. For example, product A can cause a person to have diarrhea but another person is not, or a person who have never had any side effects when using product A now suddenly gets diarrhea when using product B. Therefore, it is difficult to predict whether the iron supplements could cause diarrhea to a person.

the chance to get diarrhea while using iron supplements depends on the ingredients of the products and the sensitivity of each person
The chance to get diarrhea while using iron supplements depends on the ingredients of the products and the sensitivity of each person

For more information about avoiding diarrhea while adding iron to your body in anemia situation, please click WHAT IS THE BEST IRON SUPPLEMENT FOR ANEMIA WITHOUT CONSTIPATION?.

Thus, we could cut down using supportive products to add iron to our body as much as possible by eating high iron-contained food like liver, egg, meat, fish, spinach, legumes, etc. Another way to avoid diarrhea is to choose the iron supplement products which get the least number of reports about diarrhea-causing. Besides, you could ask for advice from your family physician to get the best recommendation and always follow the instruction on the pills.

If you want to know more about different types of iron supplements, please click here TYPE OF IRON SUPPLEMENTS

How to recognize acute iron toxicity

Acute iron poisoning could be deadly, and it could rapidly evolve within hours, so it is crucial to quickly identify the very first symptom to help the patient gets more chance to recover.

Some of the initial symptoms are not typical like lethargy, vomit, abdominal tenderness, causing healthcare professional to misdiagnose if you cannot provide sufficient information. Therefore, you should notice the progress of the patient after using these supplements.

One of the common scenarios is an elder who forgot to take the pill then received a significant number of products to compensate or a little child who though the pills are all candy and took a lot of them. Hence, you should remember to look after the elderly if they cannot take care of themselves and always to keep the products far from the children.

Bottom Line

After all, iron is the crucial micronutrients which response for the healthy grown not only for children but also for adult, and it’s incredibly essential for maternal during the pregnancy. Therefore, to ensure the standard functions of the organ systems, we can maintain the iron storage by eating healthful food and using iron supplements in some specific cases.

Iron supportive products may help in recharging the iron resource, but it may cause adverse effects mostly in the digestive system, including diarrhea and constipation. The differentiate of iron supplements induced diarrhea and other causes may not clear. Therefore, you should inform your physician about your condition to get the appropriate advice from the professional.

Adding to much iron may lead to multiple organs failures with a deadly outcome. Hence, you should follow the instruction on the pills and the guidance from your clinician. Also, you should keep the pills far from your kids to reduce poisoning accidents.

Hope that all the information above could be useful and knowledgeable for you to answer this concerned question: can iron supplements cause diarrhea.

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