Science

Should You Be Supplementing With Iron? Here's the Truth

3 min read

Do you need iron in your multivitamin? Let's dig into the science.
Do you need iron in your multivitamin? Let's dig into the science.

You probably know that meeting your iron needs is important. But how well do you really know this essential nutrient?

For starters, iron is a mineral that’s needed for a variety of functions in the body. On the most important ways the body uses iron is in the production of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that’s responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs throughout the body, and myoglobin, a protein that delivers oxygen to the muscles. Iron also supports blood cell formation as well as energy-yielding metabolism.* (1,2)

But despite the fact that iron plays a role in so many important processes in the body, a large percentage of people don’t get enough iron through their diet and/or vitamin supplement. In fact, iron is one of the most common nutrient shortfalls in the world; according to the World Health Organization, an estimated two billion people across the globe (or nearly 1 in 4) struggle with iron shortfalls. (3)

Impacts of lower iron may include sleepiness, lack of energy and upset stomach.

How much iron do you need?

The United States National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that adult men between the ages of 19 and 50 get 8 milligrams (mg) of iron each day. Women have higher iron needs than men—and it’s recommended that adult women between the ages of 19 and 50 get 18 mg of iron per day.

Women over the age of 50 have a lower recommended intake of 8 mg per day—while pregnant women have a higher recommended daily value of 27 mg per day.

Those needs, however, can change based on a variety of factors—most notably age and pregnancy.

Menstruation is one of the most common causes of iron shortfalls in women. But once women hit menopause, they’re no longer having monthly periods (or the iron loss that goes along with it)—and that means they need less iron on a daily basis. After the age of 50, most women don’t need more than 8 mg of iron per day. (4)

On the flip side, because the amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy, women are actually at an increased risk for iron shortfalls while pregnant—which is why it’s recommended that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron every day.

If you’re over the age of 50, it’s possible to get the 8mg of iron you need per day by eating iron-rich foods (including meat, seafood, poultry, beans, nuts, and green, leafy veggies like spinach). However, for women who are either pregnant or under the age of 50, it might be necessary to supplement your diet with a multivitamin with iron to get your recommended daily value.

Is the form of iron you take important?

When it comes to taking a multivitamin with iron, not all supplements are created equal. The form of iron you take can be just as important as the amount—especially when it comes to avoiding unwanted effects. We recommend looking for nutrient forms that have been shown to be gentler on the stomach—like the clinically-studied amino acid chelate form of iron (the same form you’ll find in food), which we use in our vitamins. (5)

So, bottom line—should you be supplementing with iron? If you’re a menstruating or pregnant adult woman, the answer is likely yes.

References:

  1. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron Fact Sheet for Consumers. Retrieved from National Institute of Health
  2. Oppenheimer, SJ. 2001, February. Iron and its relation... J Nutr. Retrieved from National Institute of Health
  3. World Health Organization. 2007. Assessing the iron status of populations. Retrieved from World Health Organization
  4. Mary-Jane N. Ofojekwu, Ogbonnaya U. Nnanna, Charles E. Okolie, Lolade A. Odewumi, Ikechukwu O. U. Isiguzoro, Moses. D. Lugos, Hemoglobin and Serum Iron Concentrations in Menstruating Nulliparous Women in Jos, Nigeria, Laboratory Medicine, Volume 44, Issue 2, May 2013, Pages 121–124
  5. Ashmead HD. 2001. The absorption and metabolism of iron amino acid chelate. Arch Latinoam Nutr 2001;1(Suppl 1):13-21. Retrieved from National Institute of Health.

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