Iron, one of the most abundant metal in the planet, is important in human physiology. It is an integral component of hemoglobin, a metalloprotein found in blood that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide to their proper destination within the body. Without iron, the hemoglobin cannot perform its functions.
Most iron in our body are found in blood but it can also be found in other parts of the body doing different roles. For example, iron is found in myoglobin, the oxygen-binding protein found in muscle tissue. This protein plays a role in oxygen metabolism in the muscle.
When our body is getting insufficient amount of iron or losing too much iron through intestinal bleeding or menses, we will develop iron deficiency anemia with symptoms including fatigue, headache, dizziness, palpitations, weakness, pale skin color, and breathing difficulty. This number one nutritional disorder in the world is treated by iron supplementation.
Iron supplements are prescribed by a doctor to a patient diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. The common forms of iron supplements (oral iron) are ferrous sulphate, ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, and sodium feredetate. These are available as tablets, capsules, and oral liquid. Popular brands include Ironorm®, Feospan®, Ferrograd®, Fersaday®, Fersamal®, Galfer®, Niferex®, and Sytron®.
Like any other medicine, iron supplements could cause side effects which are discussed below.
Iron Supplement Side Effects
The common iron supplement side effects include stomach cramps, upset stomach, constipation, and diarrhea. Iron can also turn your stool into black but don’t worry because it is not harmful. These side effects are usually temporary and may disappear as your body adjusts to the supplement. In case the side effects persist or worsen, contact your doctor immediately.
Although rare, allergic reaction to iron supplement may occur. Noticeable symptoms include rash, itching, swelling, dizziness, and trouble breathing. Seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms after taking iron supplement.
Minimize Side Effects and Improve Iron Absorption
Don’t take iron supplements beyond what your doctor prescribed you to take. Your anemia cannot be treated overnight by doubling or tripling your intake of iron supplement. Take it slow and always follow your doctor’s advice.
Iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach but it may cause stomach problems as iron irritates the lining of the stomach. If you experience stomach upset and other side effects (e.g nausea), try taking the supplement on a full stomach and see if the side effects disappear. The drawback in taking iron supplement on a full stomach is the reduction of iron absorption by 40%.
Do not take your iron supplement with dairy products at the same time. The calcium in milk, cheese, and other dairy products reduces iron absorption.
Also avoid tea, soy products, wine, and coffee when taking your iron supplement as they also decrease iron absorption.
To improve iron absorption, take Vitamin C supplements or increase your consumption of foods rich in Vitamin C or ascorbic acid.
Taking folic acid with oral iron can help increase red blood cell production (RBC). The body needs folic acid to produce new cells like RBC. Pregnant women need folic acid and iron to
Don’t be too dependent with iron supplements to treat your anemia. Increase your consumption of food rich in iron including liver, artichokes, beans, turkey, chicken giblets, mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops), iron-fortified cereals and grains, dried fruits (prunes, raisins), red meat, and egg yolk.
Image by Thirteen of Clubs (Flickr.com)
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