How To Take Iron Supplements For Best Absorption

December 7, 2017


How To Take Iron Supplements For Best Absorption

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Since everybody is vulnerable to iron deficiency, iron supplements are the popular choice for those who wish to stay away from iron deficiency. However, there are many doubts and concerns regarding how to take iron supplements for best absorption because of mixed information online and offline. This article will guide you through the basic knowledge of what iron supplements are and how to take iron supplements for best absorption.

What are iron supplements?

Iron is no doubt the most basic and essential minerals in our body. Hemoglobin, the organ that transports oxygen throughout the whole body, mainly consists of iron. Iron plays a vital role in supporting metabolism because it is also the primary element of myoglobin – a protein carries oxygen to muscle.

In 2012, on Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements, Murray-Kolbe confirmed that iron contributes to the normal growth and function of cellular, therefore, iron is the major factor that helps your body produce new cells, hairs, nails, and skins.[1]

According to a report from the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is still one of the most critical and vital nutritional deficiency on a global scale [2]. Iron deficiency appears mostly due to imbalance diet since the iron intake is less than what our body demands.

To help restore the body’s iron equilibrium, iron supplements are introduced as a medicine-based approach to handle iron deficiency. Iron supplements vary in two types: ferric and ferrous iron with many different forms from which consumers can select, such as tablets, liquids, drops, and capsules.

Before getting to the essential part – how to take iron supplements for best absorption, we need to first go through several important facts about iron to answer why and how much you need to iron supplements.   

For more information and better insights on iron supplements, please read the following article HOW TO BUY THE BEST IRON SUPPLEMENT FOR DAILY CONSUMPTION.

Why do you need iron supplements?

Even if you think you provide enough irons for your body, there are numerous ways that iron can disappear from your blood vessels. Below are the most five most common reasons why people experience iron deficiency:

Physical exercise

Are you a gym person? Do you do any sports? Or does your daily task involve physical work? Then you are likely a prey of iron deficiency. How can that happen? The reason behind is because of the diet. People who want to build up muscles take a strict diet which sometimes can’t provide enough iron to their bodies.

People who physically work daily sometimes lose iron through unexpected blood loss in urine and gastrointestinal process. Especially, some recent researches show that female workers or athletes are subjected to a higher chance of iron deficiency than male ones. [3] Iron supplements, therefore, are important for those whose muscles need to do a lot of work. Best iron absorption should also be considered.


Menstruation is a leading cause of anemia in women of reproductive age. A normal health menstruation will last for up to six days, causing maximum 30 ml of blood loss. Women with longer menstrual cycle or heavily blood flow are likely to suffer from iron deficiency since a high amount of blood is lost and there are not enough resources for the body to refill the lost iron.

If you find yourself have menstruation that is longer than seven days, or heavy bleeding that quickly fill up your tampon or pad, you should go to the doctor immediately and take a blood test.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

During pregnancy, your body’s requirement for iron increases because it needs irons to support the baby’s growth. During breastfeeding period, mother milk is the main source of vitamins and nutrition for the baby.

Without sufficient vitamins and other minerals such as irons, the immune system of the newborn child will be easily attacked by harmful viruses. Iron deficiency during and after pregnancy is extremely dangerous since the mother’s blood doesn’t have enough healthy hemoglobin to carry oxygen to cells and the baby. Iron-deficient mothers often feel tired and weak.

Blood donors

Even though blood donation helps your body to renew healthy blood cells constantly, regular blood donors are likely to have iron deficiency since the iron source in the body is used up. A study shows that 25% of frequent blood donors have iron deficiency. [3]

How much iron does your body need?

Different age and body condition require a different dosage of iron intake.


Adolescents and adults need to take from 10 to 15 milligrams of iron daily. This amount varies between women and men since women need more irons than men. During pregnancy, the iron requirement for women increases up to 30 milligrams per day. Breastfeeding women need 15 milligrams of iron daily.


Teen boys from 11 to 18 years old need to take 11 milligrams of iron per day. The amount of iron for teen girls is higher, 15 milligrams per day at ages 14 to 18.


Children are more likely to develop iron deficiency than adults since they consume a lot of dairy products, especially milk. Cow milk has a low rate of iron and high amount of calcium, which decrease the absorption rate of iron in children. Children from 1 to 3 years old need 7 milligrams of iron daily. The amount of required iron increases to 10 milligrams with children ages 4 to 8 and slightly decreases to 8 milligrams with children ages 9 to 13.  


How to take iron supplements for best absorption

Taking iron supplements is not easy as many people think. First, you always need to observe your body symptoms and run a blood test, if you think you have iron deficiency. Knowing your body condition and how much iron you are required to take, the next move is to understand how to take iron supplements for best absorption. Below are several factors that affect the iron absorption rate.

Forms of Iron

How important are forms of iron supplements? Let’s take a look.

Heme iron and non-heme iron are the two forms of absorbable iron. The difference between these two forms comes from the fact that heme iron has a higher absorption rate when compared to non-heme iron. Heme iron is abundant in red meat, shellfish, and poultry and has a high absorption rate ranging from 15 to 35 percent. [4] On the other hand, non-heme iron has a lower absorption rate ranging from 10 to 15 percent, which normally found in plants. That’s also the reason why vegetarians and vegans are likely iron deficient.

Despite the fact, most of the iron supplements consist of non-heme iron, generally known as ferrous salts, including ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate. As a result, patients who take non-heme iron supplements are required to take the ideal dosage of three pills per day to fulfill the amount of iron for which our body asks.

If you forget to take the right volume of iron supplements, there will be no best absorption as you expect, and your iron level remains low. One tip for absent-minded people: buy yourself a medicine pill organizer box, and prepare your pills before you use them up. This habit reminds of the dosage that you need to take, and you are on an active side when taking iron supplements.

How about the side effects of iron supplements? Do they contribute to the iron absorption rate? One side effect of iron supplements is they sometimes cause stomach upset because patients normally take the pills on an empty stomach. Coating iron pills are introduced in an attempt to deal with this problem. However, this slow-iron-releasing medicine has a lower absorption rate. If you don’t want to reduce the amount of iron your body can absorb, it is better to take iron supplements after eating 2 hours for best absorption.


It’s true that non-heme iron supplements are not simple to absorb; however, there is a way to boost its absorption rate by eating proper food while taking iron supplements. How does proper food look like? Read on.

  • Vitamin C is abundant in fruits such as lime, orange, and kiwi and some vegetables such as cauliflower and kale. Vitamin C has long been known as “iron boosters,” therefore some doctors recommend to take orange juice instead of water to drink iron supplements. If you are short on time, some lemon or lime in water is also useful.
  • Vitamin A is found in carrots, broccoli, peaches, and fish. Some recent studies researches indicate that Vitamin improves iron supplements’ effectiveness. As a result, vitamin A is used for the best iron absorption. In some cases, vitamin A inhibits phytates and polyphenols – the two elements which decrease the iron absorption rate. [5]
  • Some other vitamins that support iron-deficient treatment include vitamin B6 (cabbage, garlic, bell peppers and chicken) and vitamin B12 (cheese, fish, soy milk, and nuts).
  • Red meat such as pork or beef also helps. Red meat is really helpful when it comes to iron absorption rate. Research in 2006 shows that protein in beef enhances up to 80% of iron absorption compared to chicken. [4]


On the contrary, some food which inhibits iron absorption should be used with caution. These include:

  • Phytic acid is mostly found in seeds, such as nuts, grains, and beans. Phytates embrace minerals such as iron before those minerals can be detected and absorbed. Especially, the iron absorption rate decreases by 50% with every 5 to 10 mg of phytic acid consumed. [6]   
  • Tannin acid is a contributing factor to iron deficiency in vegetarians and vegan since they block the absorption of iron.
  • Many types of research have shown that phenolic acids in coffee are the main cause of the decline of iron absorption. Some found that a cup of instant coffee diminished iron absorption by 60 to 90 percent. [7]  
  • Some vitamins such as calcium (dairy products), zinc (spinach), magnesium (herbs like dill, basil, and chives), and copper (mainly in seafood) are not iron-friendly.

Therefore, it’s very important to keep track of your diet to make sure that what you consume doesn’t slow down your iron supplements’ efficiency.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, to understand how to take iron supplements for best absorption, you must pay attention to the forms of iron supplements you take, the ideal dosing, and your daily meal. Those components affect directly to your iron absorption. When they are in harmony, your iron deficient treatment will take effect better.

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