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Updated April 2022
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Buying guide for best iron supplements

If you find yourself feeling inexplicably drained and deflated, you could be lacking iron. Not getting enough of this essential mineral can cause weakness, dizziness, and both physical and mental fatigue. Insufficient iron levels can even affect immune responses, leaving your system vulnerable to illness and infection.

Fortunately, most cases of iron deficiency can be remedied either through dietary means or by taking an iron supplement. If you’ve been advised to add an iron supplement to your diet, you'll have no shortage of over-the-counter options to choose from.

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Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide. A whopping 80% of the world's population is estimated to be iron deficient.

Who needs iron supplements?

In an ideal world, everyone would be able to obtain optimal concentrations of iron from dietary sources. Unfortunately, for a large swath of the population, this is easier said than done. If you suspect that your diet doesn't quite cut it or you fall into one of the categories outlined below, you might need an iron supplement.

Women of childbearing age: Menstrual blood loss can deplete iron stores. Women who experience heavy bleeding are especially susceptible to developing iron deficiency anemia.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women: During pregnancy, daily iron intake requirements nearly double in order to facilitate the production of new oxygen-carrying red blood cells for both mom and baby. Breastfeeding also places an added demand on iron stores, and lactating moms need to be more vigilant about iron intake.

People on strict diets: Calorie-controlled diets often make it harder to obtain sufficient amounts of iron from food.

Athletes: Marathon runners and endurance athletes face a higher risk of losing iron through sweat. Because of the increased demand for oxygen throughout the body during physical activity, iron depletion can have noticeable effects on athletic performance.

Vegetarians/vegans: Non-heme iron from plant sources isn't as easily absorbed as heme iron from meat. Vegetarians should take extra care to eat a varied diet packed with iron-rich foods and may find iron supplements helpful.

People taking medication for stomach ulcers, heartburn, or reflux: Antacids are known to reduce iron absorption.

Blood donors: The body compensates for blood loss by producing new red blood cells and needs iron to do so. Those who frequently donate blood can prevent or treat iron deficiency by taking an iron supplement.

Children: Children often need additional iron to support rapid growth.

Signs of iron deficiency

The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency aren't always apparent and can vary from person to person depending on factors such as severity and overall health. If you're not sure if you need an iron supplement, it's best to consult a healthcare professional. Some common symptoms of iron deficiency include the following:

  • Constant exhaustion

  • Dizziness, weakness, and fatigue

  • Pale skin

  • Shortness of breath

  • Accelerated heartbeat

  • Chest pain

  • Recurring headaches

  • Decreased ability to concentrate

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Brittle nails

  • Hair loss

  • Painful or swollen tongue

  • Craving nonfood substances like ice, dirt, or chalk

  • Frequent infections

Types of iron supplements

Iron supplements come in many different forms, and choosing one can be nothing short of bewildering. We’ve listed some of the most common types of iron supplements to make your job a little easier.

Ferrous iron

Ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate are the most frequently prescribed iron supplements. Offering high concentrations of elemental iron and good bioavailability for a reasonable cost, ferrous iron salts are considered by many healthcare professionals to be the best treatment for iron deficiency and anemia. Unfortunately, the rapid absorption rate also makes ferrous iron more likely to cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Some ferrous iron supplements are available in slow-release tablets to help combat unwanted side effects, but these typically also have a lower absorbency rate.

Ferric iron

Ferric iron salts need to be broken down into soluble ferrous iron form before the body is able to use it. Because ferric iron has a lower absorption rate than ferrous iron, it generally isn’t a favoured treatment for iron deficiency. However, ferric iron does seem to be easier on the stomach and might be an option for those who are unable to tolerate the side effects of ferrous iron and need an iron supplement purely to help maintain healthy iron levels.

Chelated iron

Chelated iron consists of iron bound with amino acids to more closely resemble naturally occurring forms of iron. Because this type of iron dissolves in the intestinal tract rather than in the stomach, it bypasses the risk of causing gastrointestinal discomfort. In terms of bioavailability, chelated iron is as effective as ferrous iron, with fewer side effects. Chelated iron supplements are most commonly available as iron bisglycinate.

Carbonyl iron

A relative newcomer to the world of iron supplements, carbonyl iron is a highly purified form of iron consisting solely of microparticles of elemental iron rather than a mixture of iron salts. This type of iron dissolves slowly in stomach acids. Although it offers a lower risk of iron toxicity and is less likely to cause gastrointestinal discomfort, it doesn't necessarily have an edge over ferrous iron when it comes to treating iron deficiency.

Heme iron peptides

Although heme iron peptides are generally classified as medical foods rather than supplements, we feel they still bear mentioning. Unlike other iron supplements, heme iron peptides are derived from meat sources to deliver naturally occurring heme iron — the most bioavailable form of iron. While this type of iron is the least likely to cause stomach upset, it costs significantly more than most other iron supplements. Heme iron supplements are not suitable for vegetarians.

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Pale lower inner eyelids can be a good indicator of iron deficiency.

Iron supplement factors to consider

Elemental iron content

Elemental iron refers to the iron your body uses. While the label on the front of the packaging often describes the total amount of iron in a supplement, you might need to check the supplement facts panel on the back to find out how much elemental iron it actually contains. Iron supplements with a higher elemental iron content provide higher concentrations of usable iron.


While it can be tempting to reach for a high-potency supplement, iron tends to be easier to absorb when taken in smaller doses. For this reason, it’s best to take an iron supplement that allows you take two or three doses spread over the course of a day. Because iron deficient adults typically require from 150 mg to 300 mg of iron per day, supplements containing around 65 mg of elemental iron per dose work well for most.


If it's your first time taking an iron supplement or you’re trying out a different formula, it might be best to test a smaller quantity first. We recommend test driving a month’s supply to see how well your body tolerates the supplement before investing in a larger quantity.

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Did you know?
Without iron, the body can’t produce hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body.

Iron supplement prices

Iron supplement prices can vary dramatically depending on the form. You can expect to pay from $0.03 to $0.94 per tablet. While ferrous iron supplements generally start at around $0.03 per tablet, heme iron supplements can cost as much as $0.94 per pill. Chelated iron supplements typically range from $0.09 to $0.16 per tablet.

At the end of the day, any iron supplement with decent bioavailability and suitable concentrations of iron should work to combat iron deficiency. Unless you're sensitive to certain forms of iron or have been otherwise advised by a healthcare professional, there's really no need to pay an exorbitant price for an iron supplement.


  • Take ferrous iron with a snack to help reduce unwanted side effects.

  • Drink a glass of orange juice or take a vitamin C supplement along with your iron to help boost absorption.

  • Avoid tea or coffee shortly before or after taking your iron supplement because the tannins in these beverages can reduce iron absorption.

  • Avoid calcium, milk, and antacids for at least two hours before or after taking your iron supplement. These can interfere with iron absorption.

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Although most iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach, taking them with food can help counteract any potential stomach issues.


Q. How do I know if I have an iron deficiency?

A. If you think you have symptoms of iron deficiency, it's best to visit a physician for a professional diagnosis. Your doctor will likely run some tests. After establishing the cause and severity of your iron deficiency, your physician will be able to advise you on the most appropriate treatment method and dosage for your age, gender, and lifestyle.

Q. Can you take too much iron?

A. As important as it is to get enough iron, it's also possible to get too much of a good thing. Although the body self-regulates iron absorption, taking excessively high doses over a period of time can cause toxic levels of iron to build up in your system. For this reason, it’s crucial that you seek professional advice to establish the correct dosage before starting on an iron supplement.

Q. What should I do if I miss a dose?

A. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember, but don't double your dose. If you only remember that you've missed a dose an hour or two before the next is due, skip it and take the next dose as usual.

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