Benefits of iron – why do we need it?
Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. When our iron levels slump, we can feel weak, tired and lethargic.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition that can happen when our iron levels are significantly depleted. This can be due to insufficient intake, or excessive loss of iron. If you think you may have signs of iron deficiency always seek advice from your doctor in the first instance.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia2
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
How much iron do I need?The average male adult (age 19-50) typically needs 8.7mg iron each day. For women in the same age range, the recommended daily intake is 14.8mg. 8.7mg/day is the recommended level for women over 50.3
What causes iron deficiency?
Blood loss and an iron-poor diet are the two main causes of iron deficiency. As a result, the following groups are more at risk:
- Women with heavy periods can be susceptible to low iron thanks to the blood loss caused by menstruation during their monthly cycle.
- Pregnancy can be a trigger for iron deficiency anaemia as the female body works overtime to supply blood and oxygen to the growing foetus.
- Suffering an accident or surgery can lead to an iron deficiency.
- Children and infants can be susceptible, especially during growth spurts4
If you think you may have signs of iron deficiency always seek advice from your doctor in the first instance.
The best foods for healthy iron levels
Keeping your iron levels sufficiently stocked is the best approach and an iron-rich diet is the best way to achieve this naturally.
Foods that are rich in iron include:
- Red meat
- Dark leafy green vegetables (including kale, spinach and broccoli)
- Dried fruit (particularly raisins and apricots)
- Iron-fortified cereals
How to choose the best iron supplementsIt’s not always possible to maintain healthy iron levels simply by following an iron-rich diet. Sometimes our bodies need a boost and that’s where iron supplements can be valuable. They can particularly help if an iron deficiency is something that you need to manage.
Iron supplements come in a wide range of formats (liquid iron, tablets, powder and drinks.) So, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to choosing the best option for you.
Always take advice from a GP, registered dietician or health professional before giving iron supplements to children. And if you suspect you have an iron deficiency, talk to your GP as it could be a sign of something that needs further investigation.
What are the side effects of taking too much iron?Iron is typically safe to take in regular quantities. Taking too much (doses over 20mg) can result in side effects including stomach upset and constipation, vomiting or nausea. The NHS advises taking no more than 17mg / day unless under medical advice 6.
How quickly do liquid iron supplements work?
Compared to iron tablets, a liquid iron supplement is easily absorbed into our blood stream and gets to work quickly. As the digestive system doesn’t have to work overtime to break a tablet down, a liquid iron supplement can be easier to absorb.
Side effects of liquid iron supplementsAs a liquid iron supplement typically delivers a fast release dose of the mineral, it can sometimes cause side effects, such as constipation. There’s also evidence to suggest that they may blacken or stain teeth7. It means you’ll need to test and research to find the most suitable supplement for your needs.
Summary: Iron supplements can help iron deficiency but do your research
Our bodies depend on iron. Without it you can feel tired, sluggish and lethargic. If you’re suffering with a deficiency, iron supplements can help replenish your iron levels. Iron supplements are many and varied and there’s a supplement to suit everyone. However, if you suspect you have an iron deficiency, you should always first take advice from a GP, registered dietician or health professional.
Popular liquid iron supplements:
- Floradix liquid iron
- Spatone liquid iron sachets
- Feroglobin liquid iron
- Holland & Barratt liquid iron
Last Updated: 15th January 2021
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.Bhupesh specialises in vitamins & minerals nutrition, health benefits & safety of botanicals and traditional herbal medicines. View Bhupesh's LinkedIn profile. In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.