The Deal with Iron Supplements: Do I Really Need to Take It?

The Cleveland Clinic Wellness experts weigh in on the benefits of Iron Supplements

 

 

 

 

Pros:

  • It’s an essential mineral for oxygen transport, metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis. (Though with the exception of women with heavy menstrual periods and pregnant women, most people get sufficient iron from their diets.)  
  • Being vegan or having a diet that does not give you enough iron poses the risk of developing an iron deficiency which can lead to symptoms such as: weakness, exhaustion, shortness of breath, dizziness and even cravings for ice or clay. In the case of iron deficiency, symptoms usually improve rapidly once iron supplementation begins.

Cons:

  • Some gastrointestinal side effects can be caused by certain kinds of iron -- such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea.  
  • Too much iron can be very dangerous because it interferes with liver function and causes weakness, skin darkening, diabetes, joint pain, sexual difficulties and abdominal heart rhythms. It can cause pancreatic and/or liver damage. If you do decide to take it: 17 mg a day is the usual dosage and you should only take it if you have regular periods. Still always consult with your doctor.

The bottom line:

It is safe and effective if you have an iron deficiency that has been diagnosed by a medical professional. With the exception of people eating a vegan or ovolactovegetarian diet and women with heavy menstrual periods, iron supplementation is unnecessary, and may be dangerous.

This supplement was reviewed and evaluated by the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Prescriptive Wellness Committee. Learn more about the committee and read other supplement reviews.

 

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