Iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. While many people receive enough iron from dietary sources alone, those who don’t are at risk of some serious health concerns since iron is an essential element for blood production and, therefore, life itself.
Feeling exhausted? Wondering if your immune system is working as it should? Iron levels affect many essential bodily processes, and if you’re worried about your everyday iron consumption—or if your doctor tells you you’re iron deficient—supplementing with liquid iron is a quick, easy and safe solution for most people. Here’s what you need to know about liquid iron supplements and how they may benefit you.
What is liquid iron?
People have been taking iron supplements for centuries. Pregnant women, athletes, vegetarians and vegans in particular benefit from regular iron supplementation.
In the past, iron supplements commonly caused severe and significant complications mostly centering around gut health. Liquid iron supplements were developed as an alternative to these traditional solid supplements.
Liquid iron, also called ferrous sulfate liquid, is used as a dietary supplement for people who can’t absorb enough iron from diet alone. It’s used to prevent low iron levels from inhibiting essential bodily processes.
A doctor’s approval is always required before starting a liquid iron supplement. It’s best when taken on an empty stomach, especially since there are certain foods that inhibit its function. Doses must be measured very carefully, and they can be mixed with water or juice.
How long does it take liquid iron to kick in?
The length of time it takes for liquid iron supplements to work varies depending on the person. There are some people who experience benefits right away—like increased energy levels—while for others, it takes longer to notice the benefits, sometimes even up to several months.
There are several factors that impact how quickly and how well liquid iron is absorbed by the stomach. Even the time of day you take your supplement plays a role in its effectiveness, as well as the type of food you eat before or after supplementing.
The benefits of liquid iron
There are significant health benefits that come when you manage your iron levels and keep them within a healthy range. From reducing fatigue to improving cognitive function, iron plays a role in regulating many essential bodily processes and functions. If you are iron deficient and are looking to adopt a liquid iron supplement regimen, here are some of the benefits:
- Treats anemia. Anemia refers to iron deficiency—it’s one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide. This condition occurs when hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen to the blood, is below normal ranges, and symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and an overall feeling of weakness. Iron aids in hemoglobin formation, preventing the symptoms of anemia.
- Reduces fatigue. Suffering from unexplained fatigue? Even people who aren’t anemic, but have low iron levels, can experience reduced energy levels. This level of fatigue is usually more than normal sleepiness—it’s being tired to the extent that it interferes with your daily routine. People with low iron levels can feel this way for weeks but eating iron-rich foods and taking supplements can raise iron levels to an appropriate range and reduce feelings of exhaustion.
- Improves endurance. Iron is essential for muscle health, providing the necessary oxygen for muscle contraction and endurance. Noticing your muscles getting tired—even if you haven’t hit the gym? Low iron levels cause muscle fatigue and painful inflammation. Improving your iron levels can boost hemoglobin counts and promote muscle repair and recovery.
- Strengthens immunity. By promoting hemoglobin formation, iron plays a key role in sending oxygen to damaged cells, tissues and organs throughout the body. This strengthens the body’s immune system, helping you fight off disease and infection.
- Enhances concentration. Iron levels directly affect your cognitive function. Studies show that iron deficiency is linked to reduced cognitive levels, influencing concentration and attentiveness immediately.
- Reduces bruising. If you bruise easily, you may be living with low iron or iron deficiency. Hemoglobin directly impacts the production and function of platelets which, in turn, control blood clotting. If you frequently bruise, it’s usually an indication that your internal clotting isn’t working as it should due to potential iron deficiency.
- Promotes better sleep. Studies show that low iron levels are directly associated with sleep disturbances including restless sleep, sleep apnea and insomnia. Maintaining healthy iron levels may play a key role in preventing everyday sleep disturbances.
The bottom line is that iron is downright essential for our bodies. If you’re not getting enough of it, everything from your energy levels to the sleep you get at night will suffer. Supplementing with liquid iron is a great way to get back on track.
Who can benefit from taking a liquid iron supplement?
Low iron levels are incredibly common, particularly in certain subsets of the population. If low iron levels are left untreated over time, the condition can progress into iron deficiency anemia. A liquid iron supplement is a convenient, quick way to reverse low iron levels or treat iron deficiency anemia if the condition has progressed that far.
Liquid iron supplements produce swift results—much faster than dietary changes, but it’s not for everyone. Always talk to your doctor to determine whether a liquid iron supplement, or any supplement for that matter, is right for you. That said, there are some populations that may benefit more from a liquid iron supplement. They include:
- Pregnant women
- Infants and young children
- People with cancer
- Regular blood donors
- People with heart failure
- People following a vegetarian or vegan diet
- People who regularly partake in vigorous exercise
- People with alcoholism
How much liquid iron should you take?
The amount of liquid iron you should take entirely depends on your current health. Always talk to a doctor before and while taking a liquid iron supplement. Your doctor will likely monitor your progress under the suggested dosage—you’ll typically need regular blood tests to see if you are benefitting.
While people with iron deficiency anemia require between 100 to 200 mg of elemental iron per day, on average, your doctor will determine the ideal amount for your body. In many cases, the best way to take an iron supplement is to spread the doses out to two or more times a day. This helps your body absorb the greatest amount of iron consistently.
Since you measure doses of liquid iron yourself, rather than simply taking a pill, you need to carefully measure the amount you’re taking. Always use the measuring device that comes with the liquid iron supplement or, if there is none, ask your pharmacist for one.
The best ways to take liquid iron
As stated above, liquid iron is best taken on an empty stomach, with water or fruit juice. It’s best to space out your liquid iron intake about 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals. This might not be possible for some people since the supplement can cause the stomach to become upset. In these cases, you can take iron with food or immediately after meals.
Keep in mind, if you do need to take liquid iron with food, there are some foods you must avoid. Don’t take iron with high fiber foods like whole grains, bran and raw vegetables. You also should never take liquid iron along with foods or drinks that contain caffeine.
Liquid iron is known to stain teeth. Some strategies for supplementing can reduce or prevent these stains:
- Mixing each liquid iron dose with water, tomato juice or fruit juice. Prevent stains by drinking the mixture through a straw to prevent the liquid iron from touching your teeth.
- If you don’t need to mix your liquid iron supplement to mask the taste, use a dropper to place the dose at the back of your tongue, keeping it away from your teeth.
- If you already have stains on your teeth from liquid iron, remove them by brushing your teeth with either baking soda or medicinal peroxide.
Missed a dose? Be sure to take your missed dose as soon as you remember it. If the dose is too close to the time for your next one, simply skip the missed dose and follow your normal routine. You should never take two doses at the same time or take extra doses, for any reason.
Is liquid iron better than a solid supplement?
Generally, liquid iron is a better alternative to solid iron supplements. When you take liquid iron on an empty stomach, it’s more bioavailable and is better absorbed by the body, allowing you to get the full benefits from the product you’re taking. Many people are simply intolerant of traditional iron supplements. The bioavailability of liquid iron makes it gentler on your stomach, allowing you to maintain your daily routine.
Liquid iron is also gentler on your stomach since manufacturers generally make the supplement in low concentrations. Poor absorption often leads to gut irritation, including nausea and constipation. Since iron is absorbed in the duodenum in the small intestine, the best supplements are designed to release in this area, the body’s natural site of absorption.
Potential side effects of liquid iron
All iron supplements come with potential side effects, and most of them have to do with discomfort in the gut or problems with the digestive system. Most people experience no side effects at all or very minimal ones. If you’re taking a liquid iron supplement and experience any of the following side effects, talk to your doctor if they bother you or don’t go away:
- Nausea. It’s not uncommon for a liquid iron supplement to make the user feel nauseous or sick in varying degrees, from mild nausea to vomiting. These unpleasant side effects can negatively impact your everyday life.
- Stomach pain. Liquid iron can cause irritation in the gut. Heartburn, cramping and general stomach irritation are common when you first start taking the supplement.
- Constipation. This uncomfortable condition is one of the most common side effects of liquid iron supplements.
- Diarrhea. It’s not uncommon for liquid iron supplements to cause diarrhea. This debilitating condition can interfere with daily life.
- Black-stained teeth. Whenever liquid iron touches your teeth, it stains them. This side effect is unique to liquid iron but can be avoided by preventing the product from touching your teeth or by brushing your teeth with baking soda or medicinal peroxide.
There are some side effects that require consultation with a doctor right away. If you experience any of the following side effects, don’t hesitate to reach out to your preferred healthcare provider:
- Signs of allergic reaction, including skin rashes, hives, wheezing, trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, or swelling throughout the body
- Black or bloody stools
- Very upset stomach or vomiting, especially if throwing up blood
- Severe belly pain
These are by no means all of the side effects that can accompany liquid iron supplementation. Always talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about any side effects that occur as you supplement.
Another important point to keep in mind is that liquid iron supplements prevent other drugs from being absorbed by the body. If you take other drugs, including supplements, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to develop an ideal schedule. You may simply need to take the liquid iron supplement at a specific time of day so that it won’t interfere with other drugs you’re taking.
Always talk to a healthcare provider first
Liquid iron supplements are generally safe and effective for most people. They work quickly to address iron deficiencies and are often the preferred choice to making dietary adjustments. In terms of choosing a liquid over a solid substance, the liquid form is often gentler on the stomach and much more convenient to incorporate into your daily routine.
If you’re interested in supplementing with liquid iron, reach out to your physician first. Only a doctor can determine whether supplementing is right for you, and you’ll likely need blood tests to gauge whether the strategy is effective. Talk to your doctor today to make the most informed choice for your overall health and wellbeing.