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Which iron supplement is best?

While it’s possible to get all your nutrient iron needs from your diet alone, this isn’t the case for most people. Iron deficiencies are so common that an estimated 80% of the world’s people lack the iron they require. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, pale skin and anemia when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce the hemoglobin it needs.

But most iron deficiencies can be remedied by an over-the-counter iron supplement. If you’ve been advised by a health care professional to supplement with iron, the best is Pure Encapsulations Iron-C, a tiny pill that packs a potent dose.

What to know before you buy an iron supplement

Who needs iron supplements?

Not everyone has access to major dietary sources of iron suchas red meat, or chooses to consume animal products.

  • Vegetarians and vegans may find iron supplements helpful because plant sources of iron aren’t as easy to absorb as heme iron from meat.
  • People who menstruate, are pregnant or are breastfeeding are at risk for iron deficiencies.
  • Endurance athletes are at risk because they risk losing iron through sweat.
  • People taking antacids and proton pump inhibitors can also become deficient.

Types of iron supplements

There are five types of iron found in iron supplements. Here’s what you need to know about them.

  • Ferrous iron: This doctor-recommended type includes ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate and ferrous gluconate, which are bioavailable and have high concentrations of elemental iron. Be sure to select slow-release tablets if this type of iron causes gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Ferric iron: This form of iron needs to be broken down by the body to become bioavailable. Therefore, it isn’t as easily absorbed or as frequently recommended. However, if your stomach can’t tolerate ferrous iron, this type is easier on the stomach.
  • Chelated iron: Also available as iron bisglycinate, this type of iron is bound with amino acids to make it more bioavailable. It is as effectively absorbed by the body as ferrous iron, but does not typically cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Carbonyl iron: Rather than a mix of iron salts like the other iron supplement types, carbonyl iron consists entirely of microparticles of elemental iron. It dissolves slowly in the stomach and carries less risk of iron toxicity.
  • Heme iron peptides: Classified as a “medical food,” heme iron peptides are sourced directly from meat to deliver the most bioavailable form of iron. It’s the least likely type of iron supplement to cause stomach upset, but is also the costliest form.

What to look for in quality iron supplements

  • Elemental iron: Select an iron supplement with a high concentration of elemental iron. (Read the fact panel to determine this.) While a manufacturer will list the total amount of iron in a supplement on the package, your body can only use its elemental iron content.
  • Dosage: Though high-dose supplements are available, your body absorbs iron better when taken in smaller doses spread throughout the day. Look for supplements that allow you to take two to three doses a day that, in total, meet your recommended daily dosage.
  • Form: Iron supplements are widely available in tablet form. Liquid and gummies are also available for those who have trouble swallowing pills and for children. 

How much you can expect to spend on iron supplements

The price depends on what type of iron it contains. Ferrous iron supplements start at 3 cents a tablet. Chelated iron supplements cost a little more, at 9-16 cents a tablet. Heme iron supplements can cost as much as 94 cents a tablet.

Iron supplements FAQ

Should I be tested for an iron deficiency before taking iron?

A. It’s recommended to get diagnosed by a doctor for iron deficiency through blood testing. Taking too much iron could lead to toxicity, so you want to get the correct dose as determined by a medical professional.

Is there anything that interferes with iron supplements?

A. Milk, antacids and calcium all interfere with the absorption of iron supplements. Avoid these substances for two hours before or after taking your iron supplement. The tannins in tea and coffee also reduce absorption, so avoid these beverages shortly before or after taking an iron supplement. Check with your doctor to see if you’re on any medications that may interact with iron.

What’s the best iron supplement to buy?

Top iron supplement

Best Pure Encapsulations Iron-C

Pure Encapsulations Iron-C

What you need to know: This provides a highly utilizable form of iron to support optimal muscle function.

What you’ll love: It doesn’t cause the stomach upset often associated with iron supplements. Each capsule contains 15 milligrams of iron and 175 mg of vitamin C.

What you should consider: The bottle contains only 60 capsules.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top iron supplement for the money

Best Lifeable Iron Gummies with Vitamin C

Lifeable Iron Gummies with Vitamin C

What you need to know: This is a budget-friendly alternative to pricier iron supplements.

What you’ll love: Each tablet contains 20 mg of iron, which effectively raises iron levels in the body. The tablets are vegetarian-friendly.

What you should consider: They need to be swallowed quickly to avoid their bad taste.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Best Ferretts Tablets Iron Supplement

Ferretts Tablets Iron Supplement

What you need to know: This is a highly absorbable form of iron that’s gentle on the stomach.

What you’ll love: It contains 106 mg of iron and 325 mg of ferrous fumarate.

What you should consider: It may cause unpleasant belching.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Ana Sanchez writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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