10 Health benefits of taking iron supplements

Does low iron cause your fatigue? Anemia affects 30% of the world’s population, often due to insufficient iron [1].

Iron, a vital mineral, is crucial for producing hemoglobin and for overall health and vitality. If you’re often tired, pale, or find it hard to focus, iron deficiency could be a likely culprit. 

This article explores the important roles of iron in the body, the benefits of iron supplements, and how to safely incorporate them into your daily routine to improve your health.

What are the five functions of iron?

Iron is fundamental to several crucial functions within your body, acting much like a key player in a well-coordinated team. Here are the five primary roles iron fulfills:

1. Oxygen transport and hemoglobin’s role

Iron is a crucial component in hemoglobin production, the protein that transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body through red blood cells. Without sufficient iron, your tissues and muscles don’t receive the oxygen they need, leading to fatigue and weakened stamina [2].

2. Muscle function

Iron contributes to muscle health by aiding in the creation of myoglobin, a protein that helps supply oxygen to your muscles. This is crucial for muscle contraction and enables longer periods of physical activity without fatigue.

3. Brain function and cognitive effects

Your brain uses approximately 20% of the oxygen in your bloodstream [3]. Iron supports healthy cognitive function by helping transport oxygen to the brain and facilitating the development of brain cells. Adequate iron levels are linked to improved concentration, memory, and learning capabilities.

4. Immune system support

Iron plays a role in immune function by promoting the growth of cells that combat pathogens and infection. Maintaining proper iron levels helps your immune system to function optimally, protecting you from illness and infection.

5. Cellular function and DNA synthesis

Iron is involved in numerous cellular functions, including DNA synthesis. It supports the replication and repair of DNA, which is vital for growth and healing.

brain function and cognitive effects

What are the benefits of taking iron supplements?

Iron supplements offer many health benefits, particularly for those who are deficient in this crucial mineral. Here are ten compelling advantages of incorporating iron supplements into your health regimen:

1. Boosts hemoglobin

Iron‘s core function is to carry oxygen in the blood through hemoglobin. The more iron you have in your body, the more you can produce the hemoglobin necessary for generating enough red blood cells. 

Taking iron supplements boosts the production of red blood cells in the body, resulting in optimal health function.

When you lose blood, your hemoglobin count lowers, too. No wonder why women are most likely to have anemia, as they bleed each month during menstrual cycles [4]. 

Furthermore, anemia can be treated with iron supplements. The hemoglobin levels drop below normal levels when someone has anemia.

Thus, iron supplementation can increase the body’s hemoglobin levels. When left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can further lead to arrhythmias, heart murmur, enlarged heart and heart failure. 

2. Improves immunity

You can quickly boost your immunity with the proper amount of iron in your body. Iron can flush out toxins and help fight off viruses and harmful bacteria.

Through hemoglobin formed by taking iron supplements, you can easily send oxygen to the vital organs in your body to fight potential diseases and infections. Damaged cells, tissues and organs can be benefited by having enough iron as well. 

Moreover, iron is necessary for the proliferation and maturation of immune cells, specifically the lymphocytes that are responsible for the generation of a specific response to infection [5]. 

3. Minimizes bruising

Occasional bruising is fine; however, it is a sign of low iron in the body when it becomes frequent. Bruising occurs when your internal clotting system is not functioning correctly as it should.

Hemoglobin plays a vital role in the production and function of platelets that are involved in controlling blood clots. By taking iron supplements, you ensure that your body has its needed iron intake, minimizing bruising. 

4. Increased athletic performance

Interestingly, iron deficiency is common among athletes, too, particularly in females, compared with people who do not have an active lifestyle.

A research study conducted by health experts suggests that female endurance athletes must add ten milligrams of elemental iron daily to the recommended dietary allowance for proper iron intake [6]. 

Athletes may decrease their level of athletic performance and weaken their immune system if they develop iron deficiency.

It happens because a lack of hemoglobin directly affects physical activity exertion, slowing down the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles.

Having an inadequate amount of iron can cause your muscles to strain easily and reduce muscle strength. 

Iron supplements can improve your body’s endurance during physical activity, particularly your muscle performance. You can also reduce your risk of inflamed tissue and body pain. 

5. Reduces fatigue 

When you are anemic, there is a constant feeling of fatigue or lack of energy; it happens because insufficient iron levels can impact one’s efficiency in using body energy.

Low levels of iron can also cause a lack of focus, increased irritability and lowered stamina. As mentioned earlier, iron carries oxygen to the muscles and brain as well, making it a crucial element for mental and physical performance. 

Moreover, iron is also found to be helpful in managing unexplained fatigue in people who are not considered anemic but have a low ferritin level–an indicator of iron stores. 

In a research study involving women aged 18 to 53 who reported experiencing fatigue, it was found that participants who received a higher amount of iron improved their fatigue [7].

The findings were acquired after conducting a randomized trial among women with ferritin less than 50 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) and hemoglobin greater than 12 grams per deciliter. The participants were given either 80 milligrams (mg) of elemental iron or a placebo [7]. 

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6. Improves cognition

Along with lowered iron levels is reduced cognitive performance. Research shows a relationship between levels of drop in cognition and iron, meaning an individual with a low iron level has poor concentration and attentiveness [8]. As your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, your brain is not getting enough oxygen. 

Hence, iron supplementation can restore optimal functions within the body, including focus, memory and other cognitive performances.

In fact, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study reveals that taking iron supplements can improve verbal learning and memory among adolescent girls [9]. 

7. Promotes a healthy pregnancy

During pregnancy, one’s blood volume and red blood cell production increase significantly to provide nutrients and oxygen to the growing fetus.

Therefore, pregnant women need more iron than usual. Iron absorption is maximized during pregnancy; however, insufficient iron intake and some other factors can lead to iron deficiency. 

An inadequate level of iron during pregnancy increases one’s risk of delivering the infant prematurely and being low in weight. Worse, low iron can impair the infant’s cognitive or behavioral development.

Plus, pregnant women with iron deficiency are also at high risk of infection due to their weakened immune systems. 

Iron supplements must be taken during pregnancy, especially when the mother is iron-deficient. Take note, though, that research about recommending a higher intake of iron for pregnant women is still ongoing [10]. 

Some health experts believe that women must take about 30 to 60 milligrams (mg) of iron supplements on a daily basis during pregnancy, regardless of their iron levels [11]. 

8. Improves rest and detoxification

Iron enzymes found in iron supplements can allow the brain and body to neutralize potential toxins released by the body. Also, the substance can neutralise pollutants and other harmful toxins that may also enter from the outside.

Taking an iron supplement essentially flushes your body of different toxins and prevents other external toxins from entering.

A research study proved a relationship between having inadequate iron levels and sleep issues, including insomnia, restless sleep and sleep apnea [12]. 

Thus, iron supplementation can improve sleep quality and prevent sleep conditions from developing. 

9. Enhances skin health

Are you dreaming of achieving a natural pinkish glow? Skincare products may not be the only thing you need, but iron supplements also! 

Some common signs of iron deficiency anemia directly affect your skin, such as dark spots, dull skin and undereye circles. 

Due to low levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells in your body, your blood is diverted from the skin and directed to supply vital organs instead.

A lack of iron can lead to low levels of hemoglobin, resulting in the blood being blocked from reaching the surface or outer layers of the skin. When the blood can’t reach your skin, you are left with pale skin and poor skin health.

Regularly taking iron supplements can help your body optimize its skin wound healing function and minimize bruises and wounds. 

10. Enhances hair appearance

Generally, hair loss is experienced due to a multitude of factors, such as poor nutrition and bad lifestyle choices. Regular iron supplementation can help prevent hair condition, but how? 

Iron can help with hair loss by simply making sure your cells get proper and enough oxygen to stimulate hair growth [13]. It aids in optimizing skin health along with your hair by its contribution to supplying oxygen for cell and tissue repair.

By ensuring you have enough iron, your hair may exhibit good health, including being shiny and smooth with good elasticity and detangles easily.

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Is it OK to take an iron supplement every day?

Are you considering daily iron supplements to boost your health? It’s essential to proceed with caution. 

While iron is crucial for numerous bodily functions, too much can lead to harmful side effects. Generally, it’s safe for most people to take iron supplements daily, especially if they are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. 

However, it’s important to get your iron levels checked before starting supplementation. 

Excessive iron can accumulate in vital organs, potentially causing liver or heart problems, diabetes, or other metabolic disorders [14]. 

Always consult your doctor to determine the right dosage and to discuss whether daily supplementation is suitable for you based on your health needs and current iron levels.

What is the best time to take iron?

Iron absorption is most efficient when your stomach is not competing with other foods. To enhance absorption, iron supplements are best taken on an empty stomach, either 30 minutes before meals or two hours after meals.

However, because iron can cause stomach upset for some, taking it with a small amount of food may be necessary to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.

The interaction with other nutrients is also crucial. For example, vitamin C can boost iron absorption and is often recommended to take in conjunction with iron supplements. 

On the other hand, calcium, found in dairy products and certain vegetables, can inhibit iron absorption. 

Similarly, beverages like coffee and tea, which contain polyphenols, and foods rich in phytates, like whole grains and legumes, should be consumed well apart from when you take your iron supplement to maximize iron uptake. 

What is the best time to take iron?

How can optimal iron levels promote longevity and better aging?

A 2020 study published on ScienceDaily explored the link between iron levels and aging, revealing that maintaining optimal iron in the blood might help extend lifespan and improve health as we age [15]. 

The research, which included genetic data from over a million people, found specific gene sets related to iron that could influence longevity. 

This opens up the potential for developing treatments that could mimic the effects of these genetic variations to combat aging, though more research is needed to advance these findings into practical applications.

Closing thoughts

Iron supplements can significantly benefit your overall health by enhancing hemoglobin production, boosting immunity, reducing fatigue, and supporting brain and muscle function, among other advantages. 

However, it’s essential to approach iron supplementation with care due to the potential for adverse effects from excessive intake. 

Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage and to ensure that supplementation is right for your specific health conditions and needs.

FAQs

Who benefits most from iron?

Individuals most likely to benefit from iron include pregnant women, young children, and those with anemia, as iron supports crucial functions like oxygen transport and cognitive development.

Who suffers from iron deficiency?

Individuals most likely to suffer from iron deficiency include menstruating women, pregnant women, infants, young children, and those with diets low in iron-rich foods.

What are the symptoms of too much iron?

Symptoms of excessove iron include joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, and liver damage. It can also lead to diabetes, heart problems, and skin color changes.

How much iron is safe to take?

The safe intake of iron varies by age, gender, and health status, generally ranging from 8 to 18 milligrams daily. Exceeding 45 milligrams can be toxic and should be avoided.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7073428/
[2] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/iron/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20367/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224286/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10971835/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4596414/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3414597/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235202/
[9] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(96)02341-0/fulltext
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6293639/
[11] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1178626417737738
[12] https://www.mdpi.com/2514-183X/7/3/18
[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16635664/
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526131/
[15] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200716101548.htm

Photograph: Masson-Simon/Envato
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