Iron helps carry oxygen through your blood. It’s an essential mineral for a variety of functions, including:

  • muscle metabolism
  • building healthy connective tissue
  • growth
  • neurological development
  • cellular functioning
  • synthesizing hormones

When you have iron deficiency anemia, it means your iron levels are low and there’s a decrease in the flow of oxygen to your organs and tissues.

Most forms of iron deficiency anemia are highly treatable. If you’ve been diagnosed with it, iron supplements may help you manage your condition. There are many types of iron supplements available. Talk with your doctor to see which iron supplements may be best for you.

Use this infographic as a guide to tell if your iron supplements are properly managing your iron levels.

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12336-Signs_Your_Iron_Pills_Are_(Or_Aren’t)_Working Design by Ruth Basagoitia

Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach, but many people find that taking iron supplements this way causes them to feel nauseous, or even experience stomach cramps. Because of this, having a bit of food in your stomach when you first start taking your iron pills may help.

If you’re still dealing with stomach upset even with a bit of food, a change in supplement formulation may also help. Iron sulfate is typically the first type of iron pill prescribed, but it can cause more frequent gastrointestinal upset. If this is the case for you, talk with your doctor about a switch to ferrous gluconate, as this iron formulation contains less elemental iron.

There are also a few foods and drinks that should not be consumed at the same time as your iron supplements. These items can affect absorption and make your supplements less effective.

  • milk, calcium, and antacids (wait at least 2 hours after consuming these to take your supplements)
  • high fiber foods, like whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran
  • foods or drinks with caffeine

Vitamin C, or juice containing it, may help with absorption, and some doctors recommend taking your iron supplements with it.

A 2017 study suggested that taking iron supplements every other day, as opposed to daily, may actually increase absorption, so don’t be surprised if your physician advises this!

Medicines that may interact with iron supplements

Iron supplements may impede the effectiveness of certain other medications you’re taking, such as:

  • penicillin
  • tetracycline
  • ciprofloxacin
  • bisphosphonates (a common treatment for osteoporosis)
  • certain drugs used for hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, and seizures

Before helping you decide what iron supplements may be best for you, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, including additional medications you might be taking.

Iron is an essential mineral that our bodies need to function properly. Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that happens if you don’t have enough iron in your system, whether it be from nutrient malabsorption, blood loss, or a diet that lacks natural sources of iron.

Iron supplements may help your body regain a healthy amount of iron. If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, talk with your doctor about which supplements may be right for you. Once you start taking your iron supplements, it should be pretty clear if they’re working or not.

Avoiding certain foods like raw vegetables or milk for a few hours before taking your iron supplements will ensure better absorption.