How to Help Your Body Absorb Iron (Properly)

Snap Supplements | February 1st 2021 | 5 min read
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What Is Iron?

Iron is a vital mineral that helps the red blood cells transport oxygen through the body. When we lack iron, we can start to feel sluggish and weak.


The simple answer to a lack of iron is to take an iron supplement. However, many people fear taking these because of the many adverse effects that they can cause.


This article provides the best ways to take your iron pills to improve your energy levels without getting sick. 



The Importance of Taking Iron Supplements

We’ve already stated that iron is an essential mineral that the body uses in blood production, but just how important iron is has yet to be emphasized.


The National Institute of Health explains how iron makes hemoglobin, myoglobin, and some hormones in the body. 


Hemoglobin is an essential protein that transports oxygen throughout the body. One hemoglobin cell can carry up to four oxygen cells. 


The hemoglobin attaches itself to the oxygen and then travels through your circulatory system to individual organs and cells that require oxygen. It includes every single cell and organ in the body. You just can’t live without oxygen.


In fact, with the lack of these hemoglobin protein cells, your body will start to become depleted of oxygen, and a slew of adverse side effects begin to take place.


For this reason, if you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, it’s crucial to continue taking iron supplements. If you have low iron levels in the body, you are at risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia.


Lack of iron can also cause shortness of breath, learning difficulties, excessive fatigue, and increased infection chances.


Healthy people should naturally have plenty of iron stores in their bodies to produce enough hemoglobin for oxygen transportation.



How Does One Develop Low Iron Stores?


Children, teens, and vegans or vegetarians are often at a higher risk of lacking iron. Children and teens can lack iron because they grow quickly, and their iron intake may not meet their needs. 


Vegans and vegetarians can lack iron, not because their diet lacks iron, but because the type of iron in plant-based foods is a different form of iron. 


Iron from animal products is heme iron, which absorbs quickly into the body. Plant products contain non-heme iron, which is poorly absorbed. This can cause vegetarians to be deficient in iron.


Various proven health conditions can cause a lack of iron. The following are the most common culprits:




If you are undergoing hemodialysis, your healthcare provider should be doing regular blood tests to check your iron levels. 


Because of kidney problems, your body may not be making enough of a specific hormone, called erythropoietin, which is involved in producing red blood cells.


You can also have excessive bleeding, which would deplete the body of iron. 


Another important reason that many on dialysis end up with low iron levels is the diet that doctors will place them on. Red meats, beans, and other iron-rich foods are restricted to help keep strain off the kidneys.


Low Ferritin Levels


Ferritin is a protein that is responsible for the storage and release of iron in the body. When your body lacks ferritin, iron levels can be low since there is nothing to bind to the iron and deliver it when needed.


Intestinal Issues


When your gastrointestinal tract is not healthy, this can result in anemia. Peptic ulcers, polyps in the intestines, intestinal cancer, or some other internal bleeding can cause a slow and steady blood loss, leaving you low in iron.


Another common intestinal issue that can cause anemia is low iron absorption. 


People who have Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or those who take antacids with calcium too often can have difficulty absorbing iron into the blood from the small intestine.




Anemia is a common occurrence from burn victims in ICU. Doctors believe that this is mostly due to the damage to the receptors that produce erythropoietin. 


Stomach Problems or Removal


You can be at an elevated risk of suffering from iron-deficiency anemia if you have had stomach acid problems or have had gastric bypass surgery. 


Excessive Bleeding 


Anytime someone loses a lot of blood, they also lose much of their iron stores. This can be due to heavy menstruation, intestinal bleeding, medical conditions, hernias, or a traumatic injury.


Some Medicines


Some prescription drugs cause the body to attack its red blood cell supply. This occurrence is called drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia. 


Peruse this list of drugs that may interfere with your iron levels. 


Pregnancy or Breastfeeding


Some women can suffer from low iron levels during pregnancy or while breastfeeding since their iron needs have increased and they haven’t increased their iron intake.


Prenatal vitamin supplementation can help since most contain iron, but it’s essential to keep a close eye on iron levels during and after pregnancy.



The Possible Negative Side Effects

Unfortunately, as important as iron supplementation is for those who don’t get enough iron, this necessary act comes with a list of adverse side effects. Some are extremely common, while others can only affect a small group.


Most Common Side Effects


There are several common side effects of iron supplementation that can cause some discomfort for users.


These include many mostly digestion issues such as stomach upset, nausea progressing to vomiting, constipation, and stomach cramping.


When you are under such intense abdominal pain that can lead to vomiting, you not only risk vomiting up the iron pill itself, but it can lead to dehydration and lack of nutrients.


Leg cramps are also a common side effect when taking iron pills.


Least Common Side Effects


Some less common side effects from taking iron supplements include backache, groin, side, or muscle pain. You may also experience chest pain, chills, dizziness, or a fast heartbeat.


Some have succumbed to fainting, a fever with increased sweating, flushing, and severe headaches. Others have reported a metallic taste in their mouth.


Some have had extreme allergic reactions such as redness of the skin, skin hives or rash, swelling in the throat or mouth, and even troubled breathing.


If any of these less common side effects happen to you, you should contact your doctor immediately.


How to Mitigate These Negative Effects


Now that we know how vital iron supplementation is and the negative feelings that might follow, let’s discuss taking iron pills without getting sick.


These suggestions below work for some people. You should use trial and error to find what works for you.


Change The Class of Iron You Take


There is more than one form of iron supplement that you can take. If one type causes you to experience some horrible side effects, you can simply try a different kind and see if that alleviates some of the discomforts.


Each type of iron supplement has a unique percentage of iron that can be absorbed by the body. This iron is called elemental iron. Typically the higher rate of elemental iron in a supplement, the higher the risk of side effects.


Although some iron supplements have a higher elemental iron percentage, they typically contain more iron that our bodies can store for later use. The complete amount of iron in a supplement will be the combined amount of both irons. 


Ferrous sulfate is a form of iron doctors most commonly prescribe because it’s better absorbed. However, this is also the type that most often causes an upset stomach. 


Ferrous gluconate has a lower percentage of elemental iron and comes with fewer side effects.


Ferric fumarate contains a much higher percentage of elemental iron. Doctors usually prescribe it to those who need an immediate increase of iron in the blood.


Some iron supplements combine more than one type of iron.


This document explains how doctors decide which iron supplement is best for you. 




Take Your Supplement With a Meal


While doctors recommend that you take your iron supplement on an empty stomach, many people find that therein lies much of the gastrointestinal issues that occur.


You can reduce a large amount of nausea, heartburn, and upset stomach by taking your iron with a small meal. It’s important to know that your body may lose some of the iron’s absorption rate. 


Still, if this is the only way to make iron supplementation bearable, it may be your only choice. Some iron absorption is better than none.


Be aware that there are foods you want to avoid in these meals. The last section of this article will shed some light on these.


Increase Your Water Intake


Drinking lots of water is always a good idea, even more so when you are taking iron supplements. 


Increasing your water intake can decrease the amount of cramping and constipation you experience from your iron supplements. 


Spread Out the Dosage


While you don’t want to decrease your dosage of iron that your healthcare professional has prescribed, it is okay to spread that dosage throughout the day.


Taking in your iron in smaller amounts often will help to decrease many of the common side effects. 


To do this, you can cut your iron pill in half or quarters and take each section throughout the day. 


Cutting a pill into quarters can be a challenge, however, so perhaps you can talk to your doctor about finding smaller tablets and taking more than one per day.


Use a Stool Softener


When constipation is your biggest challenge, taking a stool softener while you supplement with iron may be the answer. 


The stool softener will counteract the constipating effects of your iron pills.


Take with Soluble Fiber


Daily supplementation of soluble fiber during the period you supplement with iron can aid in the digestion process. The fiber can also act as an iron facilitator, helping to transport the iron to the small intestine to be absorbed.



How to Increase Iron Absorption

The body absorbs iron after it enters the stomach. Stomach acids then transform the iron into a digestible form.


The iron then travels to the small intestine, which is where it is absorbed into the bloodstream


Doctors advise that for the best absorption rate, you should take iron on an empty stomach. While this will increase the amount of iron you absorb, it could also increase the uncomfortable side effects as well.


Supplementing with vitamin C will help to increase the uptake of non-heme iron. For this reason, many people take their iron pills in conjunction with a vitamin C supplement or a glass of orange juice.


Vitamin A and beta carotene may increase the iron absorption rate by inhibiting the other nutrients in the gut from preventing iron uptake. 


Foods to Avoid While Taking Iron


Many health care professionals who tell you to take iron supplements will also give you a list of foods to avoid while taking them. Though many of these are healthy foods, you should still heed this medical advice.


These foods below make the list:


  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Spinach
  • Tea or coffee
  • Whole-grain bread and cereals 


You want to avoid these foods for at least two hours before and after taking your iron supplement as they can interfere with the absorption process.

The recommended daily intake of iron is different for each class of individuals depending on age, gender, and new or nursing mothers.


Just as too little iron is detrimental to your health, too much iron can be dangerous as well. This causes hemochromatosis, and if left untreated, it can damage the liver, heart, and pancreas.


It’s crucial to consult a doctor before taking iron supplements. It’s also essential to understand that not all iron supplements are created equal. 


Snap Supplements’ Iron Builder may contain everything you need for the best iron absorption.