Iron is a mineral found in the body and is essential for human life. It helps make hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen throughout the body.1 When a person does not have enough iron, he or she may develop iron deficiency anemia, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “iron deficiency is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency.”2
Anemia can be determined based on blood tests and is indicated if a patient’s hemoglobin levels are low. It can be caused by a poor diet or a more serious health problem and is generally treated by taking oral iron supplements or eating foods high in iron, such as beef, whole wheat bread, tuna, eggs, and brown rice, to name a few.3
Early signs of iron deficiency anemia include extreme fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, poor appetite, and pale skin, among others.4
Common causes of anemia include blood loss, a diet low in iron, an ability to absorb iron, and pregnancy.4 Anyone can develop anemia; however, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the following are at a higher risk:3
- “Women: Blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth can lead to anemia.
- People over 65, who are more likely to have iron-poor diets
- People who are on blood thinners
- People who have kidney failure (especially if they are on dialysis), because they have trouble making red blood cells
- People who have trouble absorbing iron”
Here are a few things to remember if iron supplements are recommended by your healthcare provider:4
- Take iron tablets on an empty stomach; however, because the tablets could upset your stomach, you may need to take them with meals.
- Don’t take iron with antacids, as they can interfere with the absorption of iron.
- Take iron tablets with vitamin C, as it improves the absorption of iron.
As with any health-related concern, it is important to consult a physician before taking iron supplements. Anemia is not something that should be self-diagnosed, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, “overloading the body with iron can be dangerous because excess iron accumulation can damage your liver and cause other complications.”4
1University of Maryland Medical Center. “Iron.” Umm.edu. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/iron. Updated May 2013. Accessed November 2014.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Recommendations to Prevent and Control Iron Deficiency in the United States.” Cdc.gov. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00051880.htm. Updated May 2001. Accessed November 2014.
3Cleveland Clinic. “Oral Iron Supplementation.” Clevelandclinic.org. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Anemia/hic_oral_iron_supplementation. Updated March 2010. Accessed November 2014.
4Mayo Clinic Staff. “Iron deficiency anemia.” Mayoclinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/basics/symptoms/con-20019327. Published January 2014. Accessed November 2014.