Iron is a mineral that produces red blood cells and helps carry oxygen around the body. When your iron levels are low, it leads to iron deficiency anemia. There’s a decrease in the flow of oxygen to your organs and tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutritional disorders in the world.

Taking daily iron supplements is an important part of managing iron deficiency anemia. In this article, we’ll review the different types of iron supplements available and their dosage recommendations.

We’ll also look at the relationship between anemia and pregnancy, and explore some natural solutions that may help boost your iron levels.

Oral Supplements

Oral iron supplements are the most common treatments for anemia. They can be taken as a pill, a liquid, or a salt.

There are a variety of different types available, including:

  • ferrous sulfate
  • ferrous gluconate
  • ferric citrate
  • ferric sulfate

High doses of oral iron supplements may lead to gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and dark stools.

Intravenous supplements

Certain people may need to take iron intravenously. Reasons why you may need to take intravenous iron include:

  • your body can't tolerate oral supplements
  • you suffer from chronic blood loss
  • your GI tract has trouble absorbing iron

There are several different types available, including:

  • iron dextran
  • iron sucrose
  • ferric gluconate

Intravenous iron can sometimes cause an allergic reaction, in which case your doctor will likely suggest switching preparations. Although severe side effects from intravenous iron are rare, they can include hives, itching, and pain in the muscles or joints.

The dosage for iron supplements varies from person to person. Talk to your doctor about how much you need to take.

Traditionally, a daily dosage of 150 to 200 mg of iron is given, usually spread over three smaller doses of around 60 mg. Time-released iron supplements are also available. These only need to be taken once daily.

However, newer research suggests taking iron once every other day is just as effective and has better absorption. Talk to your doctor about which dosing strategy is best for you.

Certain foods like dairy, eggs, spinach, whole grains, and caffeine can cause iron to lose its nutritional value. Try to avoid having these foods at least one hour before and after you take your supplements. Antacids and calcium supplements should also be taken at least one hour apart from your iron.

It’s important to note that it’s possible for people with anemia to take too much supplemental iron. In some cases, too much iron can cause GI problems, nausea, abdominal pain, or faintness. In severe cases, it can lead to more serious side effects like organ failure, coma, and even death.

If you’re living with mild iron deficiency anemia, it’s possible to treat your symptoms naturally through a healthy, balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods.

There are two main types of iron in your diet:

  • Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Nonheme iron is found in nuts, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.

Heme iron is easier for the body to absorb than nonheme, although both types are part of a balanced meal. Vitamin C can help to increase nonheme iron absorption. It’s a good to include items high in vitamin C in a plant-based meal.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body needs double the amount of iron it usually does to help supply oxygen to the baby. This extra demand increases the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

If left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can cause pregnancy complications like premature birth, low baby weight, and postpartum depression.

Some other factors that increase the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy include:

  • being pregnant with multiple babies
  • having two closely spaced pregnancies
  • having frequent episodes of morning sickness

It can sometimes be hard for pregnant women to tell if they have iron deficiency anemia. Many of its common symptoms are similar to those of pregnancy. They include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • pale skin
  • chest pain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests pregnant women start taking a low dose oral iron supplement (around 30 mg per day) and get screened for iron deficiency anemia during their first prenatal visit.

They also encourage women who test positive for anemia to increase their dosage to 60 to 120 mg per day. Pregnant women should talk to their doctor to determine their specific recommended dosage.

Iron is an essential mineral for maintaining good health. Iron supplements are an excellent way to prevent complications of iron deficiency anemia. If you think you may have iron deficiency anemia, talk to your doctor about whether iron supplements are right for you.