How to Get the Most Out of Your Iron Supplement

If your doctor has advised you to take iron, then you’re going to want to take it so that your body gets the most out of the supplement with the least amount of side effects. Here are some tips to help you do just that!


1. Take it With Water

Resist the urge to wash your iron pill down with your morning coffee or tea, or any other known iron absorption inhibitor. You can’t go wrong if you take it with water. Taking it with orange, grapefruit or prune juice is also an option since vitamin C helps to enhance iron absorption– this has been proven beneficial only with iron salts (ex. ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate).


2. Take it On an Empty Stomach

Taking your iron on an empty stomach (or at least 2 hours before or after a meal) provides optimal absorption because the iron does not interfere with other ingested substances. This may increase the risk of experiencing unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects (ie. cramps, nausea, diarrhea); however, if you can tolerate it on an empty stomach, then definitely go for it. Polysaccharide-iron and heme-iron polypeptide can be taken with or without food.

In all cases, it is best to avoid taking your iron supplement with foods and beverages that can inhibit iron absorption. To further enhance iron absorption from the foods you consume, add animal tissue (meat/poultry/fish) and sources of vitamin C (ie. natural apple, orange or grapefruit juice). When non-heme iron is eaten alongside animal tissue, the absorption rate of the non-heme iron is improved!


3. If Needed, Spread it Out

Depending on the type and amount of iron you’re taking, you may want to spread it out to avoid side effects. For instance, if your current supplement requires taking 3 iron pills a day, spacing apart the dosing so that you’re taking one in the morning, afternoon, and evening can make it easier to tolerate than taking them all at once. Interestingly, while polysaccharide-iron complex (PIC) offers the highest dose of elemental iron (150 mg) available in the Canadian market, with standard recommended dosing of 1 capsule daily, it is well-tolerated based on my experience with patients.

The Anemia Guidelines for Family Medicine (2014) state that tolerance may also be improved by starting with a small daily dose and increasing to the target dose gradually after 4 or 5 days. Refer to your doctor about choosing the right dosing regimen for you.

For situations where medications are used on a chronic basis, compliance is enhanced by taking fewer tablets. Similarly, in the case of iron supplementation, supplements with more elemental iron per dose (less frequent dosing regimens) may be a better choice to help improve compliance.

Learn more about available iron supplements here →


Having Problems with Your Iron Supplement?

If you’re having trouble tolerating your oral iron supplement or even just having trouble taking it; speak to your doctor or pharmacist about what you can do. Sometimes a simple change in dose, or even a change of supplement, can help. Compliance is key in treating iron deficiency, so do what you must to take your supplement properly and get the most out of it.



This article was last updated on 2.2.2015

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


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4 thoughts on “How to Get the Most Out of Your Iron Supplement

  1. bee says:

    I have low ferritin and have spend two years getting it up to 26 from 4. but i’m losing my hair. I know many doc don’t take ferritin seriously unless it’s super low and even then (at four my doc didn’t seem to care despite me fainting and having no energy) I got rid of my IUD which with supplements is why the numbers are better but i need it at 70s. Any GPs i
    in Toronto do Iron IV?

    • Leona, RN & Blood Specialist says:

      Hi Bee,

      You’re right – it is unfortunate that most physicians do not address iron deficiency until the patient is anemic. A ferritin level of 26 is within the “normal” parameter of my common lab test, but we also know that patients may be symptomatic of iron deficiency once the ferritin level drops below 50.

      To this point, I have an excellent article that outlines the stages of iron deficiency – all of my articles are printer-friendly. You can also use the Symptoms Checker, which may help you to discuss with your primary physician and consider getting a referral to someone who can look at giving you Intravenous Iron. Intravenous iron is usually prescribed by medical specialists such as clinical haematologists, Gastroenterologists and nephrologists.



      Hi Sheila,

      The question is not so much, “Am I anemic?” as, “Am I iron deficient?”

      In the progression or iron deficiency article, we learn that you can be iron deficient in the absence of anemia and that you can be experiencing very debilitating symptoms from that iron deficiency. It can be very frustrating to obtain timely treatment for iron deficiency as most health care providers do not even assess for iron deficiency until you are in fact anemic (stage 3). It becomes the role of the patient to advocate with their health care provider to test for and treat Iron Deficiency in the absence of anemia.

      I encourage you to ask for complete testing for iron deficiency.


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