Which iron supplements are best?
Iron deficiencies are so common that an estimated 80% of the world’s population lacks what they need. While it’s possible to get all your nutrient iron needs from your diet alone, this isn’t the case for many people, as the statistic reveals. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, pale skin, and the condition anemia when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce the hemoglobin it needs.
Fortunately, most iron deficiencies can be remedied by an over-the-counter iron supplement. If you’ve been advised by a healthcare professional to supplement with iron, there’s no lack of options to choose from. We created this short guide to help you navigate the supplement terrain. Our top pick is from Feosol, and it’s a tiny pill that packs a potent dose of iron.
What to know before you buy iron supplements
Who needs iron supplements?
Not everyone has access to major dietary sources of iron, like red meat, or chooses to consume animal products. Vegetarians and vegans may find iron supplements helpful because plant sources of iron aren’t as easy to absorb as heme iron from meat. People who menstruate, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding are more at risk for iron deficiencies. Endurance athletes are at risk as well, as they risk losing iron through sweat. People taking antacids and proton pump inhibitors can also become deficient.
Types of iron supplements
There are different types of iron found in iron supplements. Here’s what you need to know about them.
- Ferrous iron: This doctor-recommended type includes ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate, which are bioavailable and have high concentrations of elemental iron. Be sure to select slow-release tablets if this type of iron causes gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Ferric iron: This form of iron needs to be broken down by the body to become bioavailable. Therefore, it isn’t as easily absorbed or as frequently recommended. However, if your stomach can’t tolerate ferrous iron, this type is easier on the stomach.
- Chelated iron: Also available as iron bisglycinate, this type of iron is bound with amino acids to make it more bioavailable. It is as effectively absorbed by the body as ferrous iron, but it does not typically cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Carbonyl iron: Rather than a mix of iron salts like the other iron supplement types, carbonyl iron consists entirely of microparticles of elemental iron. It dissolves slowly in the stomach and carries less risk of iron toxicity.
- Heme iron peptides: Classified as a “medical food,” heme iron peptides are sourced directly from meat to deliver the most bioavailable form of iron. It’s the least likely type of iron supplement to cause stomach upset, but it is also the costliest form.
What to look for in quality iron supplements
- Elemental iron: Select an iron supplement with a high concentration of elemental iron. (Read the fact panel to determine this.) While a manufacturer will list the total amount of iron in a supplement on the package, your body can only use its elemental iron content.
- Dosage: Though high-dose supplements are available, your body absorbs iron better when taken in smaller doses spread throughout the day. Look for supplements that allow you to take two to three doses a day that, in total, meet your recommended daily dosage.
- Form: Iron supplements are widely available in tablet form. Liquid and gummies are also available for those who have trouble swallowing pills and/or for children.
How much you can expect to spend on iron supplements
The price of an iron supplement depends on what type of iron it contains. Ferrous iron supplements start at $0.03 a tablet. Chelated iron supplements cost a little more at $0.09 to $0.16 a tablet. Heme iron supplements can cost as much as $0.94 a tablet.
Iron supplements FAQ
Should I be tested for an iron deficiency before taking iron?
A. It’s recommended to get diagnosed by a doctor for iron deficiency through blood testing. Taking too much iron could lead to toxicity, so you want to get the correct dose as determined by a medical professional.
Is there anything that interferes with iron supplements?
A. Milk, antacids, and calcium all interfere with the absorption of iron supplements. Avoid these substances for two hours before or after taking your iron supplement. The tannins in tea and coffee also reduce absorption, so avoid these beverages shortly before or after taking an iron supplement. Check with your doctor to see if you’re on any medications that may interact with iron.
What are the best iron supplements to buy?
Top iron supplement
Our take: High-potency ferrous sulfate tablet with few side effects.
What we like: Doesn’t cause the stomach upset normally associated with iron supplements. Tablet is tiny and contains 65 mg of elemental iron.
What we dislike: Contains lactose, so it should be avoided if you’re allergic to dairy.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top iron supplement for the money
Our take: A budget-friendly alternative to pricier iron supplements.
What we like: Affordable. Each tablet contains 65 mg of ferrous sulfate iron. Effectively raises iron levels in the body. Tablets are vegetarian-friendly.
What we dislike: Tablets need to be swallowed quickly to avoid bad taste.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: A highly absorbable form of iron with an added boost of vitamin C.
What we like: Carbonyl iron form is gentle on the stomach. Formulated with vitamin C to increase absorption of iron. Vegan and vegetarian-friendly tablet.
What we dislike: May cause unpleasant belching.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Ana Sanchez writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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