Iron pills are a well-known treatment for anaemia (low red blood cells), so you’re told to take them after giving blood. But the best iron supplements are useful for everyone. It’s pretty hard to get your recommended level of iron from food, especially if you’re a veggie, vegan, dieting, or exercising a lot. Pregnancy and heavy periods can leave women so low on iron that they’re prescribed high-dose supplements, but the rest of us are likely to need a standard-dose supplement, too – especially when there’s a deadly virus circulating.
Covid-19 may be a bigger risk for people whose iron levels are low, according to numerous studies. Iron deficiency – which is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, affecting an estimated 1.62 billion people – also leads to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and headaches. So, the best iron supplements can transform your mental and physical wellbeing, improve your ability to work and exercise, and stave off illness.
Skip down the page to discover which iron supplements we recommend for all kinds of users. To find out more about iron and what an extra daily dose can do for you, read on.
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How to choose the best iron supplement for you
Why might I need an iron supplement?
Iron’s job is to carry oxygen to every cell in the body. If your body doesn’t have enough of this essential mineral, it can’t produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells to go round, and the result is that you feel tired, foggy, and headachey. Iron is also important for brain function, particularly for tasks such as memory, alertness, learning and problem-solving.
Iron in your diet mainly comes from red meat, beans, dark green veg, and nuts and seeds. Unless you eat a lot of this stuff, it can be quite hard to get all the iron you need from food alone, especially if you’ve cut down on red meat for ethical or health reasons. Iron deficiency is also very common in women, especially those who suffer from heavy periods.
Supplements are a really easy and affordable way to bump up your body’s iron levels, without having to break the bank (or break your diet) on rump steak.
How much iron should I take every day?
Around 14-20mg of elemental iron is the recommended daily dose for healthy women of childbearing age. But if you’re veggie or you do a lot of high-intensity exercise, then you may also benefit from a 14mg daily supplement, whether you’re male or female.
Some women (and men) have iron levels so low that they’re classed as anaemic. If you think you may have anaemia, see your GP for a blood test to show how your iron (ferritin) levels are doing. Prescription iron supplements can be 20 times as strong as the standard iron supplements we recommend below.
Iron, like most vitamin and mineral supplements, takes a while to build up its levels in your body. So don’t go mad with the supplements if you think they’re not having an effect after the first couple of days. If you do, you may fall prey to the main side-effect of high-dose iron supplements: constipation. Our recommendations are all formulated to avoid constipation, and one (BetterYou Iron Daily Oral Spray) even bypasses your stomach completely by being sprayed onto your skin.
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What type of iron supplement should I take?
“Different supplements contain different types of elemental iron,” says Hussain Abdeh, Superintendent Pharmacist at Medicine Direct. “Ferrous supplements are the most easily-absorbed iron supplements, due to their high solubility. Ferrous sulphate and ferrous fumarate are both very well absorbed.”
You can also improve the absorption of your iron supplement if you take it properly. “You’ll normally be told to take iron supplements on an empty stomach, around one hour before a meal,” says Hussain. “This is because taking them with food can reduce how much iron is absorbed into the gut. If you can take them with a drink that is high in vitamin C, such as orange juice, this helps your body to absorb more iron.”
The best iron supplements to buy in 2021
1. Active Iron for Women: Best non-constipating iron supplement for women
Price: £9.99 (1 month supply) | Buy now from Amazon
What’s better than one tablet? Two tablets! OK, one of these daily doses is iron, while the other is a capsule containing your full daily dose of B12 (the other nutrient women are most likely to be deficient in) and vitamin B6, which helps regulate hormones. Leading iron supplement maker Active Iron has designed both pills to be extremely easy on the digestive system (easy enough to take on an empty stomach, which is when they work best), and to work together to get the best out of each other. Together, they add up to create the perfect daily supplement balance for women.
It can be hard to judge the effectiveness of a supplement simply by popping a couple of pills. So to help us pick our recommendations, we looked for reviews from verified buyers who’d been taking them for a while. And for Active Iron for Women, the feedback was outstanding.
“I’ve tried so many iron products and they’ve either been ineffective or resulted in constipation,” writes one buyer. “But Active Iron actually works with no miserable side effects. I no longer feel constantly tired, and love the fact that it’s gentle enough to take on an empty stomach.” Another woman, who says she suffers from acid reflux and anaemia, writes: “They aren’t the best taste, but I have found these tablets to boost my system without any harsh stomach pains so they deserve 5 stars.”
The one downside is that these supplements aren’t vegan, because they contain whey protein. They’re suitable for vegetarians and coeliacs, though.
Key specs – Size: 30 tablets (plus 30 vitamin B capsules); Iron content: 17mg; Iron type: Ferrous sulfate
£9.99 (£0.17 / count) Buy now
2. Vitabiotics Ultra Iron: Best iron supplement with vitamin C
Price: £3.85 (1 month supply) | Buy now from Vitabiotics