Energy and Great Hair: How Iron Tackles Anemia, Fatigue, and Strengthen Hair and Nails

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Iron supplements can be a game changer for people who struggle with low iron levels. These supplements fill the gap when diet alone can’t provide enough iron, a crucial element that our body needs for functions like oxygen transport and energy production. While they’re not for everyone, iron supplements offer a straightforward way to address iron-deficiency anemia, reduce fatigue, and improve overall well-being.

What is Iron?

Iron is a mineral that is predominantly present in red blood cells and muscle cells in the body. Meat, fish, beans, spinach, and cereal are some of the food sources of iron.

The primary function of iron is to assist red blood cells in transporting oxygen from the lungs to various cells throughout the body. Besides, iron is involved in several significant functions in the body. Iron is commonly used for preventing and treating various forms of anemia caused by low iron levels

Iron is also used for treating heart failure, fatigue, ADHD, child development, memory, thinking skills, and other conditions. However, most of these uses lack substantial scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Iron?

The right amount of iron is critical for health. While iron supplements offer various health benefits, it’s crucial to know that excess iron increases inflammation and causes harm. Consult with a registered dietitian about iron supplements and getting more iron into your diet naturally. Here are some of the benefits of adequate iron:

  • Combats Iron-Deficiency Anemia: Iron supplements can help treat iron-deficiency anemia by increasing hemoglobin levels, which improves the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
  • Reduces Fatigue: Low iron often leads to feeling tired all the time. Supplements can give you more energy by supporting the efficient use of oxygen in your body.
  • Enhances Brain Function: Adequate iron levels help maintain focus, improve cognition, and support learning.
  • Boosts Immune System: Iron plays a role in a healthy immune system. Good iron levels mean your body can fight off infections more effectively.
  • Improves Athletic Performance: Athletes often use iron supplements to improve oxygen transport, which can improve exercise performance and reduce muscle fatigue.
  • Supports Pregnancy: Iron needs increase during pregnancy, and supplements can help meet these elevated requirements to support both the mother and growing baby.
  • Regulates Body Temperature: Iron helps your body regulate temperature by aiding in metabolic reactions.
  • Promotes Healthy Skin, Nails, and Hair: Adequate iron levels can improve the appearance of your skin and help keep your hair and nails strong.

Don’t Supplement with Iron Unless You Need It

Excessive intake of supplemental iron can increase oxidative stress, a state of imbalance where the body has more free radicals – unstable, oxygen-containing molecules – than it can handle. The trouble with free radicals is that they can easily react with other molecules, causing significant damage to cells, proteins, and DNA within the body.

One of the main concerns with excessive iron intake is its potential to boost oxidative stress, leading to various health problems over time. Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer have all been associated with high levels of oxidative stress.

In the context of heart disease, too much iron can increase oxidative stress, leading to the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or “bad cholesterol”). This oxidized LDL can trigger atherosclerosis, a process that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

In neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, high levels of oxidative stress can contribute to the damage and death of neurons, worsening the progression of these conditions. DNA damaged by oxidative stress may be a precursor to cancer.

Given the potential risks, it’s recommended that you only take iron supplements when you know your levels are low or when they are prescribed by a healthcare provider. It’s also very important not exceed the recommended dosage.

Test (Don’t Guess!) Your Iron Level

Iron testing can be ordered online through the Nutriscape Lab Shop. The Anemia Panel (affiliate links) from Access Medical Labs tests for Ferritin, Total Iron Binding Capacity, Iron, Folate, B12, and Reticulocyte Count.

How Much Iron Do You Need?

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron differs for different age and life-stage groups. The figures below are based on guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.

Age or Life Stage GroupRDA for Males (mg/day)RDA for Females (mg/day)
Infants 0-6 months0.270.27
Infants 7-12 months1111
Children 1-3 years77
Children 4-8 years1010
Children 9-13 years88
Teens 14-18 years1115
Adults 19-50 years818
Men 51+ years8
Women 51+ years8
Pregnant Women27
Breastfeeding Women9 (younger than 18), 10 (older than 18)
Consult Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for personalized recommendations, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions.

Ways to Increase Iron Intake and Absorption From Food

If you’re looking to get more iron into your system, there are several effective methods. Let’s dive into some strategies that include different forms of iron, using vitamin C for better absorption, and the benefits of cooking with cast iron.

Vitamin C Boost: If you’re consuming plant-based iron, a great way to increase absorption is to pair it with vitamin C-rich foods. So, go ahead and toss some strawberries into your spinach salad or squeeze some lemon juice onto your lentils. Vitamin C can increase the absorption rate of non-heme iron, making your plant-based iron sources more effective.

Cooking with Cast Iron: Using a cast-iron skillet, especially for acidic foods like tomatoes, can increase the iron content of your meals. The acid in the food can pull some of the iron out of the skillet, adding a boost of this essential mineral to your dish. So next time you’re cooking up a tomato sauce, consider using your trusty cast-iron skillet for an iron infusion.

By employing these strategies, you can maximize your iron intake and make the most out of both heme and non-heme sources. Whether you’re adding vitamin C to your meals or cooking with cast iron, these tips can make a real difference in your iron levels.

Foods With The Most Iron

Food SourcePortion SizeIron Content (mg)Estimated % Absorption
Spinach, cooked1 cup6.42-20%
Lentils, cooked1 cup6.62-20%
Beef, cooked3 ounces2.715-35%
Chicken Liver, cooked3 ounces1115-35%
Tofu1/2 cup3.42-20%
Quinoa, cooked1 cup2.82-20%
Oatmeal, fortified1 cup142-20%
Chickpeas, cooked1 cup4.72-20%
Canned Tuna3 ounces1.415-35%
Pumpkin Seeds1 ounce4.22-20%
Turkey, dark meat, cooked3 ounces2.015-35%
Shrimp, cooked3 ounces2.615-35%
Keep in mind that the actual absorption can vary due to several factors, including what other foods you’re consuming and your overall health.

Iron Supplement Types And Their Absorption

The absorption and tolerability of different forms of iron supplements can vary significantly. Here’s a list:

  • Ferrous Bisglycinate (Iron Bisglycinate): Often considered one of the best-absorbed forms of iron, it is also known for being gentle on the digestive system, reducing the likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Ferrous Sulfate: A commonly used form of iron, it has good bioavailability but can sometimes cause gastrointestinal upset in some individuals.
  • Ferrous Gluconate: This form is also well-absorbed but typically provides less elemental iron than ferrous sulfate, which can make it gentler on the stomach.
  • Heme Iron Polypeptides and Heme Iron Concentrate: These are well-absorbed but are typically used less frequently. They are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans as they are derived from animal sources.
  • Ferrous Fumarate: While it contains a higher amount of elemental iron, it may not be as well-tolerated as ferrous gluconate or ferrous sulfate, potentially causing more gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Carbonyl Iron: This form is absorbed more slowly and can be less irritating to the stomach, but its overall absorption rate is lower compared to ferrous forms.
  • Ferric Iron Salts (such as Ferric Citrate and Ferric Phosphate): These are less soluble and generally not absorbed as well as ferrous forms, and they are often used in food fortification.

How to Absorb More Iron From Supplements

Taking Iron Supplements With vs. Without Food: If you take iron supplements with food, it may cut the absorption of iron by 40% to 50%! This means that for best absorption, you would take iron on an empty stomach for maximum absorption. But it’s not that simple. Taking iron on an empty stomach can cause nausea, so if you need to eat, it’s advisable to steer clear of dairy products, coffee, tea, and cereals.

Take Iron Every Other Day: The hepcidin hormone regulates iron absorption. Taking an iron supplement raises hepcidin levels, limiting further iron absorption for up to 48 hours. Every-other-day dosing works with this cycle, allowing hepcidin to drop and improve iron absorption from the next dose. This method aims for efficient absorption while minimizing side effects. [PMID: 26289639]

Vitamin C: Taking vitamin C with an iron supplement is a smart move to improve iron absorption. The vitamin C acts by converting the iron into a form that’s easier for the body to absorb. This is especially beneficial if you’re taking non-heme iron supplements, which are generally less easily absorbed than heme iron from animal sources. You don’t need much to make a difference—just a small glass of orange juice or a vitamin C tablet taken along with your iron supplement can be enough. By pairing these two together, you’re making it easier for your body to take in the iron it needs to function well.

Ferrous vs. Ferric Iron Forms: Iron supplements commonly come in ferrous forms such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous fumarate, which generally have better absorption rates compared to ferric forms. Ferrous iron, with its 2+ oxidation state, is more soluble and therefore more easily absorbed by the body. Absorption rates for these types of iron can vary based on a variety of factors, including other nutrients consumed with the supplement.

Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron: Heme and non-heme iron differ in their sources and rates of absorption. Heme iron comes from animal products like meat, poultry, and fish. It has a higher absorption rate, generally between 15-35%, making it easier for your body to take in. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is found in plant-based foods like spinach, lentils, and fortified grains. This type has a lower absorption rate, ranging from 2-20%. While heme iron is more efficiently absorbed, non-heme iron still plays a vital role and can have its absorption increased by pairing it with vitamin C-rich foods.

Are Iron Supplements Safe?

Iron is generally safe for most people when taken orally, provided that the dose does not exceed the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 45 mg elemental iron daily. However, taking iron supplements may cause side effects such as vomiting, nausea, constipation, and stomach upset. Taking iron with food can reduce these side effects, but it can also decrease the body’s ability to absorb iron. Medical supervision is recommended for doses exceeding the UL since excessive doses of iron can be unsafe.

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Taking iron orally in doses below the UL of 45 mg elemental iron daily is likely safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, high doses of iron can be dangerous when taken orally. If you are not iron-deficient, you should not take more than 45 mg daily, as excessive doses can lead to stomach side effects and increase the risk of preterm birth.
  • Children: Taking iron orally in doses below the UL of 40 mg of elemental iron daily is generally safe for children. However, high doses of iron can be unsafe and may cause poisoning, with doses as low as 60 mg/kg being potentially fatal.
  • Diabetes: Females with type 2 diabetes who consume high levels of iron in their diet may be at an increased risk of heart disease. It is advisable to discuss iron intake with a healthcare provider if you have diabetes.
  • Hemodialysis: Supplements containing iron may not be well absorbed by individuals receiving hemodialysis.
  • Hemoglobin diseases: People with hemoglobin diseases may experience iron overload if they take iron supplements. Therefore, iron supplements should only be taken as directed by a healthcare provider.
  • Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT): Iron supplements may increase the risk of nosebleeds in patients with HHT. Caution should be exercised when using iron in such cases.
  • Physical training: Iron may not be absorbed efficiently in young females participating in physical training.

Medication Interactions with Iron

  • Levothyroxine (Synthroid, others): Iron can reduce the absorption of levothyroxine, potentially reducing its effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron at least two hours before or after taking levothyroxine.
  • Bisphosphonates: Iron can decrease the absorption of bisphosphonates from the stomach, reducing their effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take bisphosphonate at least two hours before iron or later in the day.
  • Quinolone antibiotics: Iron can reduce the absorption of quinolone antibiotics from the stomach, potentially reducing their effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron 2 hours before or 2 hours after taking these antibiotics.
  • Tetracycline antibiotics: Iron can also reduce the absorption of tetracycline antibiotics from the stomach, potentially reducing their effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron 2 hours before or 4 hours after taking tetracyclines.
  • Chloramphenicol: Chloramphenicol might decrease new blood cells, but most people only take it for a short time, so this interaction isn’t a big problem.
  • Dolutegravir (Tivicay): Iron can reduce the absorption of dolutegravir from the stomach. To avoid this interaction, take dolutegravir at least 2 hours before or 6 hours after taking iron.
  • Levodopa: Iron might reduce the absorption of levodopa, potentially reducing its effectiveness. Do not take iron and levodopa at the same time.
  • Medications for HIV/AIDS (Integrase inhibitors): Iron can reduce blood levels of integrase inhibitors, potentially reducing their effectiveness. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are using integrase inhibitors and want to start taking iron.
  • Methyldopa (Aldomet): Iron can reduce the absorption of methyldopa, potentially reducing its effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron at least two hours before or after taking methyldopa.
  • Mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept): Iron might reduce the absorption of mycophenolate mofetil, potentially reducing its effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron at least 4 hours before or 2 hours after taking mycophenolate mofetil.
  • Penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen): Iron might reduce the absorption of penicillamine, potentially reducing its effectiveness. To avoid this interaction, take iron 2 hours before or 2 hours after taking penicillamine.

Supplements that Interact with Iron

  • Beta-carotene: Iron absorption from wheat, corn flour, and rice with added iron may be enhanced by beta-carotene. However, taking additional beta-carotene may not benefit individuals with normal beta-carotene levels.
  • Calcium: Absorption of iron from food or supplements is hindered by calcium. This is not a major concern for those with sufficient iron stores, but for those who are iron deficient or may become so, calcium supplements should not be taken with meals or with iron supplements.
  • Gum Arabic: When consumed together, gum Arabic and some forms of iron form an insoluble gel, but the significance of this interaction is unknown.
  • Lactobacillus: Lactobacillus plantarum, a probiotic species, could potentially increase the body’s iron absorption capacity.
  • Soy: Iron absorption may be reduced by soy protein. For those with low iron levels, fermented soy products like tempeh may be a better choice.
  • Vitamin A: Taking vitamin A supplements may improve iron levels in those with low vitamin A and iron levels, but not in individuals with normal vitamin A levels.
  • Vitamin C: Consuming iron-containing foods with vitamin C aids in iron absorption by the body, regardless of whether the vitamin C comes from food or a supplement. However, vitamin C does not seem to have an effect on iron absorption from iron supplements.
  • Zinc: Iron and zinc absorption can interfere with each other, but this interaction is halted by food. Taking zinc or iron supplements with meals is recommended for optimal benefit.

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Why Professionals Choose the Fullscript Formulary

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  • Free shipping over $50 and best prices when you order through Supplement Sciences.
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  • How It Works:
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Iron with Vitamin C

Iron Plus C is a highly absorbable iron formula used to support and maintain body stores of iron.* The Vitamin C improves the intestinal absorption of the iron.* Iron is an essential mineral and it is used to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the blood.* Iron is also used to produce red blood cells.* The body needs an adequate supply of iron to produce the number of normal red blood cells needed to maintain optimal health.* Although many people in the U.S. get enough iron from their diet, some must take additional amounts to meet their needs.*

Take 1 capsule, 2-3 times daily with food, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Serving Size: 1 veg capsule

Amount Per Serving
Vitamin C … 200mg (ascorbic acid)
Iron … 20mg (as iron aspartate)

Heme Iron with Vitamin C, B12, and Folate

Here  Iron  SAP™ helps to form red blood cells and helps in their proper function.*

Here Iron SAP™ is a factor in the maintenance of good health.*

Adults: Take 3 capsules once daily with a full glass of water, with or without food, or as directed by your health-care practitioner. Do not lie down for 30 minutes after taking this product. If you are taking other medications, take this product a few hours before or after them. Consult a health-care practitioner for use beyond 7 weeks. Consult a healthcare practitioner to monitor blood iron content.

Serving Size: 3 Capsules

Amount Per Serving
Vitamin C … 270mg
Methylfolate … 1mg
(from calcium l-5-methyltetrahydrofolate)
Vitamin B12 … 1mg
(methylcobalamin)
Iron … 33mg
(heme iron polypeptide from porcine hemoglobin)

Iron Glycinate

Some mamas need extra Iron to support blood volume expansion, thyroid and immune function, fighting fatigue, and for adequate birth weight and baby’s on-time neurodevelopment. Our Iron is bound to Glycine for better absorption and digestive comfort. 13.5mg capsules allow you to flex the dose up and down, depending on how much supplemental iron you need.
Suggested Use:
Take one capsule up to four times daily, as advised by your health practitioner. We suggest taking away from meals and your Prenatal Multi. Our Iron is absorbed most easily on an empty stomach.

Amount Per One Capsule Serving
Iron (as ferrous bisglycinate, Ferrochel™)…13.5mg

Liquid Ionic Iron 22mg — Trace Minerals Research

Liquid Ionic Iron is an essential mineral for optimal health. Research indicates that it plays an important role in proper enzyme and cognitive function, energy production, and optimal immune system function.* 46-day supply, 22mg/serving of Iron Sulfate.

Ionic Single Minerals from Trace Minerals Research® combines high quality single mineral ingredients and over 72 trace minerals and elements from ConcenTrace® in a unique new proprietary process. This unique blend gives the body the type of minerals that it readily recognizes and absorbs fast because of its liquid Ionic state*.

Shake well. We recommend spreading the serving size throughout the day and taking it on a full stomach. Using the metered dropper, take 0.4-1.2mL daily with juice to mask the concentrated mineral flavor.

Amount Per 1.2 mL (1/4 tsp.) Serving
Iron … 22mg (Ferrous Sulfate)
Magnesium … 20mg (ConcenTrace®)
Chloride … 15mg (ConcenTrace®)
Sulfate … 45mg (FeSO4, ConcenTrace®)
Boron … 105mcg (ConcenTrace®)

Food First!

Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.

Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.

To Sum It Up

Iron supplements offer a variety of health benefits that make them worth considering. They can effectively combat iron-deficiency anemia by improving your blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. The supplements can also reduce fatigue and give you more energy for your daily activities. Beyond that, they play a role in enhancing brain function, boosting your immune system, and even improving athletic performance. Iron supplements can also be particularly beneficial for pregnant women who have increased iron needs. With all these advantages, iron supplements are a valuable tool for improving overall well-being.


This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice

Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.


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