Types Of Iron Supplements – What You Need To Know

February 24, 2018

Jelly Bell

Types Of Iron Supplements – What You Need To Know

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Iron deficiency has always been a condition that can affect our lives tremendously. Iron is mainly stored in our liver, and you can supply iron to your body with foods that are rich in iron, but in some particular cases, that might not be enough. Your body can demand a big amount of iron to aid the development of a child or the process of pregnancy in a woman.

Iron supplements, therefore, has been introduced as a method to provide you with the needed mineral. Many people are unsure what supplemental iron to choose.

This article will guide you through some insights about the most basic issues about iron and iron deficiency, why you need supplemental iron, types of iron supplements and how to use it effectively.

If you want to know more about this subject, click on our article HOW TO BUY THE BEST IRON SUPPLEMENT FOR DAILY CONSUMPTION.

What Are Iron Supplements?

Iron is one of the many vital minerals in the body. Why is iron important? Our body needs iron, as it is used to create hemoglobin, which is a part of the red blood cells. They serve as a transporter and bring oxygen to every part of the body. Iron is also very necessary for physical and mental activities, without it we will feel weary and unproductive.

Every day, we lose a small amount of iron in our body and we have to regain it by taking in iron from the foods that we eat. We can lose a larger amount of iron if there is blood loss, for instance, if you are on your monthly period or if you are internally bleeding.

When your food intake cannot recover the loss of iron, it will be low and this is called iron deficiency. If it gets lower, the red blood cells will not regenerate quickly enough and the level of hemoglobin will be below the normal level. This is an illness namely anemia [1].

Iron supplements are formulations taken to treat and prevent iron deficiency in our body. There are many ways to use iron supplements suitable for each person’s need like tablets, capsules, and liquids. You can read more about liquid iron supplement in our article BEST LIQUID IRON SUPPLEMENT.

There are many ways to use iron supplements
There are many ways to use iron supplements

Iron Supplement Uses

Iron supplements, as its name, provide us with the mineral iron. You can get the iron your body need with food intake, but in some cases, you might really need to add some types of iron supplements to your daily consumption.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

This is the number one reason why people need supplemental iron. As mentioned above, anemia happens when the level of iron in your blood gets abnormally low, and that prevents the chance of oxygen traveling to your tissues and muscles.

When you have anemia, you might experience these symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Hard to breathe
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin

If you want to know more about anemia treatment, take a look at our article BEST IRON SUPPLEMENT FOR ANEMIA WITHOUT CONSTIPATION.


Pregnant and nursing women need much more iron than women who are not carrying a baby or breastfeeding. Normally, a woman needs around 15 milligrams of iron every day and if she is pregnant, the number rises to 27 milligrams as stated by National Institutes of Health.

If a pregnant woman does not take in more iron, iron deficiency happens because iron is needed to serve as a source of hemoglobin for the fetus to grow. It needs iron to develop the red blood cells, veins, and muscles. Iron inefficiency can result in miscarriage or light-weighted babies.

However, as a future mother, if you are already taking prenatal vitamins, you have to consult your doctor for the dosage of supplemental iron pills [2].


As you know, when you are menstruating, you are losing more blood than usual. This is the reason women are more exposed to the risk of having anemia than men. For healthy women, a menstrual period can last from 3 – 6 days and the amount of blood loss can be up to 30 milliliters.

Women who have to suffer from certain kinds of menstrual problems will have longer periods and are more likely to have iron deficiency due to the bigger amount of blood loss.

Physical Activities

If you work out or play sports frequently, you are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency. It might be because of your dietary habit. People who keep a toned and fit body might have a diet that does not have many foods rich in iron.

Another reason that causes iron deficiency in people who do a lot of physical work is that they can lose iron due to unexpected loss of blood during urinal and gastrointestinal process. So athletes and physical workers need to take supplemental iron and learn how to best absorb the iron.

Risk factors

Other causes of iron deficiency can be a diet lack of iron, ulcer, colorectal cancer, or uterine fibroids. Being healthy requires a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle. If you suffer from the diseases mentioned above which lead to intense blood loss and iron deficiency, you need to talk to your doctor as soon as possible to seek treatments.

Types of Iron Supplements

Supplemental iron is necessary for many people to treat and prevent anemia, and it is important to know the types of iron supplements as you have to pick the right one for your condition. You need to understand the difference between many types and their advantages as well as disadvantages.

Supplemental iron is necessary for many people to treat and prevent anemia
Supplemental iron is necessary for many people to treat and prevent anemia

How Many Types of Iron Supplements Are There?

There are two types of dietary supplemental iron which are heme iron and non-heme iron. Non-heme iron can be found in plants like green leafy veggies and nuts, while heme iron can only be found in animal foods, especially red meat.

How Are They Different?

The difference between these two types of iron supplements is that heme iron is more absorbable than non-heme iron, and the reason is that heme iron is bound to hemoglobin. While non-heme iron has a 2.9% chance to absorb if you haven’t eaten anything, and the number is 0.9% if you have, heme iron beats it with the absorption rate of 35% [3].

Moreover, non-heme iron such as ferrous sulfate or ferrous fumarate when digested will reduce the effect of some other drugs and the absorption of the iron will also be decreased. If you are a vegetarian, there is a high risk that you have iron deficiency and some dietary habit can lower the chance of iron absorption as well.

The second difference between the two is side effects. Heme iron, once again, has the advantage over non-heme iron because it does not have side effects like non-heme iron. The unpleasant results might be nausea, bloating and digestive problems.

However, heme iron comes from animal products, which can cause some health concerns like the risk of stroke or heart disease. High rate of absorption isn’t always a good thing because too much iron can rise the oxidative stress.

Which Kind of Iron Supplements Should You Choose?

Although heme iron seems to have the upper hands when it comes to its advantages, non-heme iron is much more commonly sold and consumed. Why? It is because the patients will have an equal amount of iron added to their body when they take supplements several times a day. Iron is essential to our body so we should take small amounts and avoid getting too much of it [4].

If non-heme iron cannot be taken in by the body, heme iron is needed to provide us the mineral iron. Read more about heme iron supplement at our article BEST HEME IRON SUPPLEMENT.

Type of Iron SupplementsHeme IronNon-heme Iron
Absorption Rate35%0.9 – 2.9%
SourceOnly meatMeat, plants, nuts
AdvantagesHighly absorbingNo negative side effects
DisadvantagesCausing health complications like heart diseaseLow absorption rate, needs to be taken with larger dose

How To Use Iron Supplements

Iron deficiency is a critical condition and if not treated right, can leave many health consequences. While knowing the differences between the types of iron supplements is important, you need to know how to take them for best results. Take a look at HOW TO TAKE IRON SUPPLEMENTS FOR BEST ABSORPTION to know more about this.

Prevent Iron Deficiency
Prevent Iron Deficiency

To Prevent Iron Deficiency

  • For adults: Male adults require 10 mg per day, and their female counterpart requires 10 – 15 mg per day. For pregnant women, the dosage doubles to 30 mg per day.
  • For children: from birth to 3-year-olds, they need around 6 – 10 mg of iron. For 4 – 10-year-olds, the number is 10 mg per day.

To Treat Iron Deficiency

If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you need to talk to your doctor about dose and usage depending on your condition. It takes 2 – 3 months to reduce the symptoms and condition of anemia but to rebuild your body’s iron supply will take about 6 months for the whole treatment.

In case you miss a dose of supplemental iron, it is advised to skip it and overdosing is not recommended.

How To Enhance Iron Absorption

Different types of iron supplements call for different methods to boost absorption. As mentioned above about the non-heme iron, it is less absorbable than heme iron but is more widely used. So what can you do to help your body take in iron more effectively?

To make the most of iron supplements, here is some advice:

  • Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach. However, since iron can cause some digestive problems and cause trouble with your stomach, it is recommended to take supplemental iron 2 hours after your meal.
  • Take supplemental iron with a good source of vitamin C. You can either take vitamins or consume foods that are known to contain a fair amount of vitamin C such as orange juice, lemonade, grapefruits, or vegetables packed in vitamin C like cauliflower or kale. Adding only a glass of orange juice can easily triple the amount of iron absorption in your daily diet.

Concerned about iron absorption? Look at our article BEST ABSORBED IRON SUPPLEMENT!

Precautions and Warnings

Iron absorption rate can decline when combined with certain kinds of foods. When you are dosing yourself with types of iron supplements, make sure to skip these foods:

  • Caffeine: it can reduce up to 60% of the absorption rate. Say no to coffee, green tea, and black tea.
  • Products rich in calcium: you should avoid calcium supplements or some dairy products like milk, cheese or yogurt.

If you are using supplemental iron, make sure you do not take it over a long period. Check with a professional if you are taking a frequent course for more than six months. Using iron supplement with large dose for a long time can lead to iron piling up and complications like diabetes and hypertension.

  • Always follow your doctor’s recommendation or instructions on the pills. In case you are unsure about how to take iron supplements, give your doctor a ring or ask a trusted source.
  • Keep the supplements out of reach of children. They might see them and mistake them for treats.
  • Specialists recommended that iron supplements should not be used for elderly people. They should only provide iron through dietary habit changes.


Iron is needed to create red blood cells for our body to maintain healthy, especially for pregnant, nursing and menstruating women. There are two types of iron supplements which are heme iron and non-heme iron. They carry their own different advantages and disadvantages and patients can choose whichever suits their conditions best.

When taking iron supplements, you should pay attention to the usage and precautions for best results. Make changes in your diet can also help absorb it more easily.

If you have any questions, please let us know in the comment section down below! We would love to hear from you and help with your problems. Remember to hit SHARE to your social media to spread the knowledge!

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