Iron is a dietary mineral that’s necessary for your red blood cells to carry oxygen. It's also important for certain muscles cells. You get iron when you eat red meat, oysters, spinach and other dark leafy greens, beans, lentil and organ meats. People who don’t get enough iron in their diet may become anemic and feel cold and tired.
You need more iron when you’re pregnant because your body makes more blood and your developing baby requires iron. You’re also going to lose some blood during delivery, so you need extra iron to help you during recovery. Iron deficiency during pregnancy is common, but taking iron supplements can make it easier to get all the iron you need every day.
During Your Period
Women with heavy periods might need iron supplements to replace the iron lost from heavy menstrual blood flow. The iron may prevent some of the fatigue you feel during your period. Women who use IUDs are more likely to have heavier blood flow and may need more iron, while women who are on the pill may have lighter periods.
Babies and children need iron to grow and develop properly, and kids who don’t get enough iron in their diets may have an easier time fighting off infections and have better brain function if they take iron supplements. More is not better, however, so ask your pediatrician about the best dosage for your kids.
Vegetarian or Vegans
Vegetarians avoid meat, poultry and seafood, but they may eat eggs or dairy products. Vegans are vegetarians, who also avoid eating any type of animal-based foods, including eggs and dairy. The form of iron found in plant-based foods isn’t absorbed as easily as the iron in meats and other animal products, so it’s easier for vegetarians and vegans to be iron deficient. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, especially if you're a female with heavy periods, iron supplements may help increase your energy.
Adults normally need 10 to 15 milligrams per day. Iron supplements can build up and become toxic, so you shouldn’t take them unless you’re sure you need them, and you should follow the dosage directions on the label. The U.S. Institute of Medicine sets the tolerable upper limit at 40 milligrams per day for children and 45 milligrams per day for adults. Keep them out of the reach of children, too, because an adult dosage can be poisonous for a toddler or small child. There are times when you may need an iron supplement, but speak to your doctor first.
Sheri Kay has a master's degree in human nutrition. She's the co-author of two books and has been a nutrition and fitness writer since 2004.