If you need to take iron supplements, there’s a good chance that you’ve dealt with some of its side effects. Gastrointestinal issues are common with iron supplements, ranging from stomach pain, gas, bloating, and constipation.
These side effects are hardly pleasant, but if you have an iron deficiency, supplements are important to increase iron intake and support optimum health.
If you need to take iron supplements but are bothered by the related side effects, like stomach pain, keep reading. You’ll find out ways of relieving iron supplement side effects in this post.
We’ll also cover more about what iron deficiency anemia is and why iron supplements can cause GI side effects.
Anemia is a health issue where there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen to important tissues.
Women are more likely to experience anemia, particularly people who often experience long, heavy periods.
Anemia can also be an issue for men, particularly if their diet is high in alcohol, low in iron-containing foods, or low in foods that aid iron absorption.
Iron is very important for combating anemia, as it’s a significant element required for blood production. Iron also aids proper cognitive function, supports the immune system, and is necessary for healthy hair, nails, and skin.
Most of us can satisfy our iron requirements through diet, consuming more iron-rich foods, like meat. However, many people prefer to avoid meat-rich diets, particularly vegans and vegetarians.
If this is the case, iron supplements can be very useful.
Iron supplements can help people fight anemia and iron deficiency, particularly if they find it hard to make changes to their diet. Iron supplements are often taken orally, helping the body produce red blood cells and sustaining healthy iron levels.
The boost in iron may also support brain function, improving memory, focus, and essential learning skills. However, before you consider taking these supplements, remember that iron supplements are often linked with gastrointestinal side effects.
Why Do Iron Supplements Lead To GI Side Effects?
Several factors can influence whether you develop gastrointestinal side effects after taking iron supplements. These common elements are:
- Your dose
- When and how you take the supplement
- The kind of iron in the supplement
- Condition of the microbiota, known as the gut flora or bacteria
The most straightforward explanation is down to unabsorbed iron. Iron supplements need to travel to the intestine to be fully absorbed. Once it’s in the intestine, your lymphatic system will take up the iron and release it into the liver.
However, before the iron reaches the intestine, the body’s stomach acids will attempt to break the iron down. If the individual has low stomach acid, they may be unable to digest the iron enough, so it remains unabsorbed.
Additionally, some seemingly healthy foods can hinder iron absorption, like egg whites, spinach, and beans.
Our body gets rid of unabsorbed iron naturally during bathroom visits, but the iron can cause gastrointestinal distress before it leaves the body. Examples of these side effects are stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Iron supplements can also lead to gastritis, though this is rare. This is a condition that involves inflammation of the stomach lining and upper stomach pain. If the condition is serious, gastritis can cause stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.
Gastritis related to oral iron supplements is rarer compared to other GI effects, but it’s still a risk to consider when taking iron supplements.
Best Iron Dose To Prevent Side Effects
It’s best to ask your doctor or medical provider for their recommendation regarding supplement dose. They understand your health and body history best and can give you personalized advice on how to avoid side effects.
If you know that your body is sensitive to iron, begin with half of the advised dosage recommended by your doctor. Start to increase this gradually every few days and see how your body tolerates the supplement, until you get to your daily dose.
Tips To Prevent Iron Supplement Side Effects
Now that you know some reasons why iron supplements may cause GI effects, here are some tips that can help you avoid them (if you want to find iron supplements that won’t cause constipation, read here).
Remember that if you have been advised to take iron supplements, keep taking them as normal. You’ll probably have to be on them for a minimum of three months, as your iron stores can take some time to catch up.
Alleviating GI Side Effects
Gastrointestinal side effects, like stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea can occur when taking iron supplements.
If you experience any of these, do not reduce your dose, unless advised by your doctor. Taking a lower-than-recommended dose may make your treatment less effective.
The following tips can help you alleviate some of these side effects:
- Spread out your doses if you can and drink more water.
- Ease constipation by using a stool softener.
- Try a different iron supplement category.
- Take the supplement with food. Taking iron on an empty stomach is more likely to lead to unabsorbed iron, which increases the chances of GI side effects. However, some iron supplements don’t advise this, as food may reduce iron absorption. Look at the guidelines on your supplement label before doing this.
Try A Different Type Of Iron Supplement
There are various types of iron supplements that all have different elemental iron, dosing recommendations, and potential side effects.
If you think like you can’t handle the side effects, or believe that your iron supplement isn’t doing much for you, consult your doctor about trying a different iron supplement class.
Make sure that you actually switch iron class instead of just trying a different brand, as this is likely to result in the same side effects as before. Be clear with your doctor about moving to a different class.
As mentioned above, make sure that you keep taking your supplement for a minimum of three months. You might feel a little better after a short time, but the supplement can take some time to address your lower iron levels.
Iron supplements can help people address their iron deficiency, but they can often lead to gastrointestinal side effects, like stomach pain. If this is the case, you can try a few things to relieve these effects.
Spreading out your doses, taking a supplement with food, and trying a new class of iron supplements are all examples that may make a difference.
Make sure that you consult your doctor before you switch supplements, as your health circumstances may mean you have to stick to certain varieties.
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