It depends. How much iron you need depends on you! Factors to consider include: your current iron levels (determined by blood tests), the form of iron you take (if you are taking an iron supplement) and your eating habits while taking iron.
Standing at the supplement shelf in the drug store, you may find that selecting an iron supplement is both confusing and frustrating. We get it.
Because there are several forms of iron – which most people don’t even know – with different dosages, comparing iron supplements is not like comparing apples to apples.
Each form of iron is absorbed differently by your body. Ferrous sulfate, the most common form of iron, is commonly recommended by doctors at a dose of 325 mg, which is equal to 65 mg of elemental iron, but for some people its absorption is accompanied by upset stomach.
On the other hand, Feosol® Natural Release with carbonyl iron is absorbed by your body at a rate that is naturally regulated in your intestinal tract, so it may be gentler.
All three Feosol iron supplements are designed so that all the iron you need is in one small pill, taken once a day.
Feosol Natural Release is a great iron alternative for those concerned about upset stomach.
Feosol Complete is a great choice for those with a sensitive system as it minimizes side effects such as constipation and nausea. The special, patented formula in Feosol Complete maximizes iron absorption while minimizing GI side effects.
In most cases, the best time to take iron supplements is about one hour before or two hours after meals. Iron supplements are best taken with water on an empty stomach.
There is a long list of foods, such as coffee, tea or milk, which interfere with the absorption of ferrous iron. Consider this fact next time you are about to pop an iron pill right before breakfast: taking your iron supplement with food may decrease how much iron is absorbed by the body by up to 50 percent!
On the flip side, citrus items, such as lemonade, can increase your iron absorption. Many people like to take their iron supplement with an “iron booster” like orange juice.
The no-food guideline is true for non-heme forms of iron, including ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate and ferrous gluconate; the exception to the rule is a heme iron supplement, such as Feosol Complete with Bifera, which combines heme and non-heme in one pill! Feosol Complete is versatile and can be taken with or without food.
Since oral iron products may interfere with absorption of certain antibiotics, these products should not be taken within two hours of each other.
- Medline Plus. National Institutes of Health. Iron. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/912.html#FoodInteractions March 7, 2012.
Ideally, most iron supplements should not be taken with food. The reason you should take iron on an empty stomach without food is that an acidic stomach helps with iron absorption.
Unfortunately, many people find that iron upsets their stomachs, so they take iron with meals to try and offset side effects such as nausea. Your doctor might also recommend that you take your iron supplement with a glass of orange juice because vitamin C improves the absorption of iron.
Factors that Affect Iron Absorption
Items that can decrease the body’s absorption of non-heme iron include:
- dietary or supplemental calcium
- some of the proteins found in soybeans
- dietary fiber
- phytates, found in legumes and whole grains
- plant-based compounds called polyphenols, including tannins (found in tea, wine, fruits, vegetables, nuts)
Items that can increase the body’s absorption of non-heme iron include:
- heme iron (found in meat, poultry and fish)
- vitamin C (orange juice, citrus fruits).
As you can see from the list above, there are many food items that can decrease the absorption of non-heme iron, from fruit and nuts to dairy and whole grains! That makes it very difficult to take your iron supplement with a big glass of milk and a hearty bowl of cereal.
One exception to the rule is Feosol Complete with Bifera. Because of its unique dual-iron formula that includes both heme and non-heme iron, you do not have to avoid food when you take it. You can take it any time of day – breakfast, lunch or dinner – with or without food.
It’s hard to swallow any supplement without water! Iron supplements are best absorbed when taken with an 8-ounce glass of water on an empty stomach.
Orange juice can be substituted for water (or a squeeze of lemon in your water) for enhanced iron absorption. However, certain beverages should be avoided because they can inhibit iron absorption, including:
- milk or other calcium-rich drinks
- beverages high in caffeine
Vitamin C and citric acid are often touted by nutrition experts as “iron boosters.” That’s why orange juice, vitamin C and lemonade are suggested with iron supplements.
In fact, one of the simplest ways to improve the body’s absorption of non-heme iron is the addition of Vitamin C: simply adding a squeeze of lemon to your water or taking a vitamin C supplement can help you get the most out of your iron-rich foods or iron supplements.
By the same token, it’s also important to be mindful of the foods and supplements you consume that could be iron inhibitors, such as coffee, tea, antacid tablets and dairy products.
Like most mineral nutrients, the majority of the iron absorbed from digested food sources or supplements is absorbed in the small intestine, specifically the duodenum. Iron enters the stomach where it is exposed to stomach acid and changed into a form that allows it to be easily absorbed. From there it enters the mucosal sites of the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) where most of the iron absorption takes place.
How can I maximize iron absorption?
Knowing how iron absorption takes place can be helpful in determining how to best maximize your iron intake by being mindful of the nutrients you combine.
If you are a vegetarian or avoid red meat, for example, you’ll need to maximize the amount of non-heme (plant based) iron your body will absorb.
One simple way to improve the body’s absorption of non-heme iron is the addition of Vitamin C, which can be a powerful iron absorption booster. Simply adding a squeeze of lemon to your water or taking a Vitamin C supplement can help you get the most out of your iron-rich foods or iron supplements. By the same token, it’s also important to be mindful of the foods and supplements you consume that could be iron inhibitors.
What inhibits iron absorption?
From your morning pick-me-up to your over-easy egg, there are a number of foods and minerals that inhibit iron absorption. Some common iron inhibiters include:
- Grains & legumes (the Phytic acid, found in both, inhibits iron absorption)
- Egg protein (from both the white and the yolk)
- Minerals (such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper) that compete with iron for absorption
- Tea (the Tannic acid, found in tea, inhibits iron absorption)
- Some herbs (including peppermint and chamomile)
- Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. Parenting Science. Boosting iron absorption: A guide for the science-minded. Retrieved from: http: http://www.parentingscience.com/iron-absorption.html March 7, 2012.
- National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Retrieved from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iron/#h8 March 7, 2012.
Most iron supplements dissolve in the stomach in approximately 20-30 minutes.
Some supplements claim to have a slow release mechanism. These vitamins and pills usually rely on a chemical coating to slow down the absorption. For example, a probiotic supplement may use an enteric coating to help it survive the acidic environment of your stomach.
However, Feosol® Natural Release requires no additives or coating for a gradual and gentle absorption of iron. That’s because the type of iron itself is naturally regulated by your body which must produce gastric acid to help with absorption.