Supplement Spotlight: The Importance of Iron Supplements

This month’s supplement spotlight is focused on iron supplements.  Iron supplements are important for women who are menstruating.  Men, or women who have stopped menstruating, do not need iron supplements unless they have been diagnosed with anemia.  It is very common for women of childbearing age to be deficient in iron (even sometimes severely deficient) without any symptoms.  The most common symptom of iron deficiency is tiredness or malaise, but iron deficiency can cause many other problems such as trouble with memory and concentration as well as problems with infertility.  There are many studies of the benefits of iron, and I've put information from two interesting studies below.

Many women know they should take iron supplements and some are even prescribed iron supplements from their doctors but are reluctant to take them due to stomach problems and constipation that can be caused from many iron supplements.   For a capsule form, Solgar’s Gentle Iron is wonderful.  There is another we really love though which comes in a liquid form- Floradix Iron.  I know a liquid iron supplement sounds awful, but it is not bad tasting.  The iron in Floradix is made in a way that is bound to brewer’s yeast (a great nutritional supplement in itself) and combined with rosehips, B vitamins, and whole food concentrates to help with absorption.  

Floradix absolutely does not cause constipation or stomach problems unlike many other iron supplements.  This is due in part because Floradix is so well absorbed.  In many cases constipation is caused by iron supplements not being fully absorbed and that unabsorbed iron is left in the intestinal tract causing stomach upset and constipation (a problem which doesn’t happen with Floradix).  In a survey of women who took Floradix, a strong majority (70%) of participants reported feeling “good” or “very good” after taking Floradix for 16 weeks as opposed to only 28% in the control group.   

Read more below about two very interesting studies about iron supplementation and problems caused by an iron deficiency:

Iron supplements help attention, memory, and learning in women age 18-35.

Iron is a mineral that is required for specific brain functions.  Infants, children and young women are at higher risk for iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency may affect attention, memory and learning, behavior and emotions at any stage in life.  Current research suggests that iron deficiency negatively affects cognitive abilities and that those abilities improve with iron supplements.

In a small study, researchers recruited women aged 18-35 from a university in Pennsylvania. Many were iron deficient and those with more severe iron deficiency were excluded from the study and referred to a physician for treatment.  The researchers evaluated the effect of iron status and iron supplementation on attention, memory, and learning in these women.  Women were divided into 3 groups depending on baseline iron status- adequate, iron deficient, or iron deficient with anemia.  Women in each group were given iron supplements or a placebo for 16 weeks.

Researchers found that women with adequate iron levels at baseline preformed better and faster at cognitive tasks.  Iron supplementation for four months improved iron stores and hemoglobin levels.  Significant improvements in iron stores were associated with a 5 to 7 fold improvement in cognitive performance.  Improvement in hemoglobin levels related to improved speed in completing cognitive tasks.

The researchers concluded that iron status is a significant factor in cognitive performance in women of reproductive age.  They suggested that medical practices should change and that practitioners should realize that iron deficiency has consequences other than anemia.

Iron supplements may help women conceive.

Iron is needed for oxygen transport throughout our bodies.  A component of all cells and hundreds of proteins, iron is also needed for many other functions.  Researchers have suggested that dietary iron may help women’s ability to conceive by playing a role in ovum development and the developing follicle.

Iron deficiency without symptoms of anemia is common in American women of childbearing years: 11 to 13 percent of women aged 18 to 44 have this deficiency, with deficiency even higher among women athletes.

Researchers have evaluated iron intake in women of childbearing years and found that supplemental iron may decrease the risk for ovulatory infertility. Researchers conducted a study on 18,555 married women who attempted to become or actually became pregnant and evaluated nutrient intakes and pregnancy rates. The use of plant based (non-heme) iron supplements was associated with one half the risk of developing ovulatory infertility compared with non-use of iron supplements.  Intake of supplements with a high iron content was associated with a 70% lower risk of ovulatory infertility.  Iron from animal sources (heme iron was not associated with a beneficial effect on the ability to conceive.

The researchers concluded that women planning to become pregnant should consider using plant based (non-heme) iron supplements. 

We have a great selection of plant based, non constipating iron supplements at Pass Health Foods. Come by and we’d love to help you further!


Also on our health blog:  

Healthy Q & A: Anemia and Iron Supplements (without constipation)



Healthy Q & A: Anemia and Iron Supplements (without Constipation)

Q: At my last blood test my doctor said I had low iron levels.  She gave me a prescription for iron supplements, but they made me feel horribly sick and constipated.  I don’t really know what to do since I know that’s why I’m feeling tired, but the side effects of the iron the doctor gave me are just too terrible for me to handle.  Is there anything natural that could help without giving me constipation?


A:  Iron deficiency can absolutely cause fatigue, as well as dizziness, cold hands and feet, pale skin, headaches and more.  It’s important to correct iron deficiency, though many iron supplements are notorious for causing constipation and stomach upset, something no one wants to deal with.

Thankfully there are natural, plant based iron supplements which can help.  Plant based iron supplements, like Solgar’s Gentle Iron, will not cause constipation or stomach issues and can help to bring iron levels back in to the normal range.  I’ve personally taken Solgar’s Gentle Iron capsules when I was diagnosed with low iron levels and at my next blood test it was back in the target range, and I never had any stomach issues from taking it.

Iron supplements are best taken with vitamin C, like a glass of orange juice, to enhance absorption.  There are some foods that inhibit iron absorption- dairy products, eggs, spinach, coffee, kale, and nuts to name a few; those foods should not be consumed for a few hours apart from iron supplements for optimal iron absorption.  It would also be a good idea to be consciously add more iron containing foods to your diet- beans, dried fruit, brown rice, liver, and red meat. 

Undiagnosed iron deficiency is incredibly common in the US.  It has been estimated that up to 20% of all pre menopausal women have iron deficiency anemia, and that one third of people over age 75 are anemic as well.  Thankfully, low iron levels are treatable, and there are natural, plant based supplements which can bring your iron levels back to normal without constipation or stomach upset.


Also on our health blog:

The Importance of Iron Supplements