So, you’re in need of an oral iron supplement and head to the pharmacy where you’re greeted by an overwhelming selection. How do you pick the right one without resorting to an impromptu game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe? Keeping in mind that every body is different (and a one-size-fits-all iron supplement does not exist), I recommend that the “right” iron supplement is one that patients can tolerate with the least amount of side effects.
Here I’ve put together a quick and easy guide to help you choose the right iron supplement for you, and as always, your doctor or pharmacist are great resources to help you understand the available options.
When choosing an iron supplement, consider the following:
1. Elemental Iron
When choosing your iron supplement, instead of looking at the overall strength (or weight), look at the amount of elemental iron. Elemental iron is the amount of iron available for absorption. For example, an iron supplement may read “300 mg” on the front of the bottle, but only contain 60 mg of elemental iron.
Speaking of absorption, you’ll want to ensure that your body absorbs as much iron from your supplement as possible and you can do this by taking it on an empty stomach (if tolerated) or with foods that are high in vitamin C, which has been found to enhance iron absorption (this is not necessary, however, when taking an iron supplement formulated with polysaccharide-iron complex or heme iron polypeptide).
2. Side Effects
Oral iron supplements can cause some unpleasant gastrointestinal (GI) side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and dyspepsia (indigestion). These are usually a result of dosing and typically subside with continued therapy. As noted in the Anemia Guidelines for Family Medicine (2014), you can enhance tolerance by starting with a small daily dose (eg. 1 tablet daily) and gradually increasing it. Taking it with or after a meal can also make it easier on your belly, but this decreases the amount of iron you will absorb, so just keep that in mind.
3. Convenient Dosing
Let’s face it; the easier a supplement is to take, the more likely you are to take it as required, right? For this reason it’s a good idea to read the recommended dosing or check with your pharmacist. Compliance is a crucial part of iron supplementation and treating iron deficiency, so look for a supplement with a dosing schedule that fits your lifestyle.
Choosing the best iron supplement is about making it as easy on you as possible. You want a supplement that gives you the most bang – or elemental iron in this case – for your buck, that also happens to be easy to take as far as convenience and side effects go. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about your needs and which supplement is right for you.
For more information on treatment options and different types (or classes) of iron supplements, check out my work with Dr. Marla Shapiro in a segment called Understanding and Treating Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anemia.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs