Best time to take iron supplements

Elemental iron is crucial for delivering oxygen from the lungs to the different body parts. Oxygen is essential for the growth, metabolism and survival of human beings. 

Iron is present in the red blood cells as part of the haemoglobin oxygen-protein structure. Haemoglobin is is made u of iron and protein chains that bind to oxygen from the lungs and releases oxygen to the different cells in the body. 

In the US, approximately 4-5 million Americans are diagnosed with iron-deficiency anaemia. About 20% of the world’s population has iron-deficiency anaemia [1].

Subgroups most affected by iron-deficiency anaemia include children aged 0-5 years old; school-age children; premenopausal women; menstruating women; people receiving kidney dialysis. 

What are iron supplements good for?

Iron supplements are an essential part of maintaining good health, especially when there’s a deficiency that diet alone can’t resolve. They come in various forms, but the most common ones are:

  • Ferrous sulfate
  • Ferrous gluconate
  • Ferric citrate

These different forms have varying amounts of elemental iron, which is the actual iron content available for absorption by your body.

Iron is crucial for transporting oxygen in your blood, and a deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and other health issues [2].

Some individuals, such as pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions, may need iron supplements to maintain healthy iron levels.

Understanding iron supplements is the first step toward addressing iron deficiency and maintaining your overall health.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s explore the pros and cons of different timing options for taking iron supplements.

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Why is iron essential? 

Iron plays a vital role in keeping your body functioning at its best. It’s not just another mineral; it’s an absolute necessity for good health. Let’s break down why iron is essential:

1. Growth and development

Iron is essential for children’s growth and development. It supports the formation of new cells, tissues, and organs. Inadequate iron intake in children can lead to developmental delays and growth issues.

2. Oxygen transport

Iron is a crucial component of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin’s job is to carry oxygen from your lungs to every cell in your body.

Without enough iron, your body can’t produce sufficient hemoglobin, leading to a lack of oxygen in your tissues. This can result in fatigue, weakness, and even cognitive problems

3. Immune function

Iron plays a role in supporting your immune system [3]. It’s essential for the proper functioning of immune cells and their ability to defend your body against infections.

Inadequate iron levels can weaken your immune response, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

4. Hormone production

Iron contributes to the production of hormones in your body, including those that regulate metabolism and energy balance. Imbalances in iron levels can disrupt hormonal functions.

5. Physical endurance

Iron is especially crucial for athletes and active individuals. It helps transport oxygen to muscles during exercise, improving endurance and performance.

Athletes with low iron levels may experience reduced physical stamina and recovery times.

Best time to take Iron supplements

What is the recommended amount of iron? 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron [4] are as follows: 

  • Male adults (19-50 years old): 8 mg daily 
  • Female adults: 10 mg during lactation and 27 mg daily during pregnancy 
  • Female adults: 18 mg daily (19-50 years old); 8 mg daily (51 years old and older) 
  • Adolescent males: 11 mg daily 
  • Adolescent females: 15 mg daily 

The tolerable upper intake level for iron is 45 mg for women and men and 40 mg for children. The tolerable upper intake level refers to the maximum dose of iron that does not lead to any harmful effects on health. 

How do you take iron for maximum absorption?

To make the most of your iron supplements and ensure your body gets the iron it needs [5], here are some practical tips:

  1. Take with food: To reduce the risk of stomach discomfort, take your iron supplement with a meal. This can also enhance absorption and make it easier on your digestive system.
  2. Pair with vitamin C: Combine your iron supplement with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, like oranges, strawberries, or a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption.
  3. Avoid calcium: Try to avoid consuming calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements around the same time as your iron supplement, as calcium can inhibit iron absorption.
  4. Space medications: If you’re on medications like antacids or antibiotics, space them out from your iron supplement to prevent interference with absorption. Consult your healthcare provider for guidance.
  5. Consider heme iron sources: If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, consider including heme iron sources like lean meats, poultry, and fish in your diet, as heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body.
  6. Limit tea and coffee: Drinking tea or coffee with your iron supplement can hinder absorption. If you enjoy these beverages, try to have them separately from your supplement.
  7. Don’t overdo it: Follow your healthcare provider’s recommended dosage. Taking too much iron can lead to side effects and health risks.
  8. Stay consistent: Take your iron supplement at the same time each day to establish a routine. Consistency can help ensure you don’t miss a dose.
  9. Monitor your progress: If you’re taking iron supplements for a specific medical condition, work closely with your healthcare provider to monitor your progress and adjust your supplementation as needed.

By incorporating these simple yet effective tips into your iron supplement routine, you can maximize iron absorption and support your overall health. Remember that individual needs may vary, so consulting with a healthcare provider is essential for personalized guidance.

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Who should take iron and who should be cautious? 

Individuals with iron-deficiency anaemia [6] and those who are iron deficient should take iron supplementation to manage the symptoms associated with iron deficiency. 

Pregnant and lactating women

Pregnant women would require additional iron from food and iron supplements to meet the needs of the rapidly growing fetus.

Demand for red blood cell production and the formation of haemoglobin is high during fetal development.

Sufficient iron intake is necessary to prevent developing fetuses and infants’ poor brain development and cognition. 

Lactating women also require additional iron supplements or iron from the food they eat to keep up with the demands of the breastfeeding infant.

During lactation, women produce milk and require high amounts of energy to produce the milk.

Since oxygen is crucial in the breakdown of glucose and energy production, the blood should be able to efficiently deliver oxygen to the cells to keep up with energy production. Haemoglobin production is increased as demands for oxygen are also increased. 

Best time to take Iron supplements

People taking medications

Iron absorption may be affected by the drugs we take. Iron may also affect the absorption of other medicines. Here are some of the drugs that interact with iron: 

  • Penicillin 
  • Tetracycline 
  • Ciprofloxacin 
  • Anti-seizure drugs 
  • Levothyroxine 
  • Levodopa 
  • H2 blockers 

When taken together with iron, antibiotics can be less effective. Hence, the best time to take antibiotics for iron deficiency anaemia is two hours before or two hours after antibiotic administration. 

Levothyroxine is another drug that binds with iron. Concentrations of levothyroxine may reduce when taken together with iron. Hence, taking levothyroxine two hours before or after iron intake is best. 

Levodopa is a necessary medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease. However, when taken together with iron, its concentration reduces.

Similar to other drugs that interact with iron, taking Levodopa two hours before or after the administration of iron is advisable. 

Meanwhile, iron is best absorbed when the environment is acidic. Hence, medicines that reduce the acidity in the stomach also reduce iron absorption.

It is advised that taking iron supplements two hours before or after the administration of H2 blockers will help increase iron absorption.

When is the best time to administer iron? 

Iron is best absorbed when you have an empty stomach or at least two hours before and after meals. Take iron with water or juice.

However, some people can experience stomach upset when taking iron on an empty stomach. In this case, you can take iron supplements with food or immediately after eating your meal. 

Taking the supplement before bedtime also ensures increased iron absorption, as your stomach will most likely empty before bedtime. Eating your meal at least two hours earlier before sleep would help increase iron absorption. 

Finally, the best time to take iron is when you have an empty stomach to optimize its absorption.

When taking medications known to interact with iron, you should take the medications two hours before or after the intake of iron. Always consult with your doctor when planning to take iron supplementation.

Conclusion

As we wrap up this discussion on iron supplements and their importance, it’s clear that iron is a fundamental element for maintaining good health.

From transporting oxygen to supporting energy production and immune function, iron plays a pivotal role in various bodily functions.

Remember, if you suspect an iron deficiency or are considering iron supplementation, consult with a healthcare professional.

They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs, ensuring that you make informed choices for your health.

In your journey to better health, knowledge about essential nutrients like iron is a valuable tool. Armed with this information, you can take proactive steps to ensure your body gets the iron it needs to thrive.

FAQs

When should I take iron morning or night?

The best time to take iron supplements can vary for individuals, but it’s often recommended to take them in the morning with a meal to minimize the risk of stomach upset and enhance absorption.

What to avoid when taking iron supplements?

When taking iron supplements, it’s important to avoid consuming calcium-rich foods or supplements, tea, coffee, and medications like antacids, as these can inhibit iron absorption.

How to take iron supplements for best absorption?

To maximize iron absorption, consider taking your supplements with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, such as orange juice. Additionally, avoid consuming dairy products and calcium supplements within a few hours of taking iron supplements for best results.

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[1] https://www.thelancet.com/clinical/diseases/iron-deficiency-anaemia 
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034 
[3] https://www.vetmed.ufl.edu/2023/10/10/uf-researchers-discover-iron-plays-key-role-in-immune-system-health/ 
[4] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ 
[5] https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/iron-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/proper-use/drg-20070148 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448065/


Photograph: seventyfourimages/Envato

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.