Iron is one of the important minerals in the human diet, since it is used in the production of red blood cells, responsible for transporting life-giving oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. As a result, those with a shortage of iron from their daily diets are recommended to take iron supplements to maintain healthy levels in their blood. However, there can be side effects of iron supplements – and here are a few to watch out for.
– About Iron and Iron Supplements –
Without iron, cells become oxygen-starved and cannot produce sufficient amounts of energy. People suffering from iron deficiency therefore experience such symptoms as fatigue and anemia. To prevent these harmful symptoms, people should make sure that they take in an adequate amount of iron: roughly, 11 mg per day for men, and 15 mg per day for women. (Young children, both boys and girls, should take in 7-10 mg regardless of gender.)
When people are not getting adequate iron through their daily diets, the shortage may be corrected through the prescription of iron supplements. This normally takes the form of pills, except in the case of emergency intravenous therapy. Iron supplements were invented by a French doctor, P. Blaud, in the 1800s.
– Side Effects of Iron Supplements –
In general, the side effects of iron supplements are actually the warning signs of iron toxicity (i.e. taking in too much iron at a time), and therefore a signal that the dosage may need to be adjusted. The most frequent side effects of iron supplements are felt within the digestive system. These include an abdominal discomfort (an upset stomach), nausea, heartburn, and potentially either diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms can often be treated and mitigated directly while maintaining the iron supplement therapy.
Some noticeable side effects of iron supplements are very common but not harmful. People taking iron supplements, for example, may notice that their bowel movements have become noticeably darker. This is a side effect of increased iron in the body and is not a sign of harm.
Intravenous iron treatment comes with its own range of side effects, including headaches, fever, joint pain, arthritic pain, and swollen lymph nodes. However, such treatments are generally only given in a hospital setting.
– Iron Toxicity –
The body is capable of, essentially, overdosing on iron, or absorbing too much of it. This can damage the digestive system, in particular the intestines where the extra iron is absorbed, as well as damage to other internal organs, including the heart, as a result of excess iron in the circulating blood. This can cause a condition called iron intoxication or iron overload syndrome, damaging the liver, islet cells (and thus increasing the risk of diabetes), and joints (leading to joint pain and arthritis). People suffering from iron overload must be treated to reduce their iron levels back to normal so that the symptoms rise and damage to organs ceases.
– Further Reading –
London Health Sciences Centre. “Iron.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron.”
University of Maryland Medical Centre. “Iron.”