Iron HeaderIron Header

Vegan Iron Supplements, Vitamins and Tablets

Iron is important in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Iron is found in vegetables like leafy green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, soya and dark chocolate. Iron needs Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and apples to enhance absorption. Combining the two nutrients is very important, and making sure you are getting enough of both in your daily diet.

Why is iron important?

Like many vitamins and nutrients, our body needs iron to live. The body needs iron as a vital mineral to keep our bodies healthy, especially for making red blood cells and delivering oxygen.

Not only do these cells carry important oxygen around the body from the lungs to the tissues and organs, but it’s also hugely important for many of the body’s other functions. These include our growth and development as well as general energy and focus, gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of our body temperature.

About 70 percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called haemoglobin and, in your muscle, cells called myoglobin. Haemoglobin is essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. Myoglobin, in muscle cells, accepts, stores, transports and releases oxygen.

A further 6 percent of body iron is a component of certain proteins, essential for respiration and energy metabolism, and as a component of enzymes involved in the synthesis of collagen and some neurotransmitters. Iron also is needed for proper immune function.

A quarter of the iron in the body is stored as ferritin, found in cells and circulates in the blood. The average adult male has about 1,000 mg of stored iron (enough for about three years), whereas women on average have only about 300 mg (enough for about six months). When iron intake is chronically low, stores can become depleted, decreasing haemoglobin levels.

Whilst there are many ways to get iron from our diet, we can also ensure our body doesn’t miss out on this vital mineral by using iron supplements such as iron tablets or syrups that can help to boost our iron levels.

040122 KW Vegetology Active Energy J Dawson 374 1 X1 1

How much iron do I need?

Research suggests all of us may need different levels of iron depending on our gender and our age. Recommendations for iron you need are:

  • 8.7mg a day for men aged 19 and over
  • 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 49
  • 8.7mg a day for women aged 50 and over

Women having periods after the age of 50 may need the same amount of iron as women aged 19 to 49.

You should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet but there are iron supplements or tablets that can help if your iron levels are low.

What are the signs you need more iron?

Our body often tells us when it’s lacking vital nutrients and minerals. When our body doesn’t have enough iron, it can present symptoms that we need to be aware of. These include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness or light headedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
040122 KW Vegetology Multi Vit J Dawson 133

Often it can be difficult to tell our iron level until they are too low. This is when we can start to feel ill.

To properly check if your iron levels are too low, you may need to visit your GP or medical practice for a blood test. This can determine the haemoglobin level in your blood and if you have enough iron. Haemoglobin is the protein in the blood that carries iron, so a low haemoglobin level often indicates low iron levels, and you may need some iron supplements to help.

Once a diagnosis of low iron or anaemia is given, the right course of iron supplements can be prescribed. There are various strengths to choose from, depending on your iron levels.

Untreated iron deficiency anaemia: can make you more at risk of illness and infection – a lack of iron affects the immune system. may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs – such as an abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or heart failure.

Vegetology June 23 152 1

The importance of iron supplements

When iron levels are low, iron supplements can help. Iron supplements are highly recommended for low iron, but they can also be beneficial in our diets too.

Taking an iron supplement can have benefits including:

  • Boosts haemoglobin. Iron's core function is to carry oxygen in the blood through haemoglobin
  • Improves immunity
  • Minimises bruising
  • Better athletic performance and reduces fatigue
  • Improves cognition
  • Promotes a healthy pregnancy
  • Brain-body detox and better sleep
  • Improves skin and boosts hair condition

There are many ways to increase iron intake including high strength tablets or iron supplements. Some of these include ferrous sulphate, high strength syrup such as ferrous fumarate, medium strength tablets called ferrous gluconate and lower strength syrup with sodium feredetate.

Are there side effects to iron supplements?

Initially taking iron supplements can result in side effects. It may take one to four weeks from starting iron supplements, before you feel better, and you may feel unwell at first.

Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach so many take their supplements first thing in the morning. However, many people find it can make them feel nauseous. Other side effects include:

  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal cramps
040122 KW Vegetology All Vits J Dawson 435

To avoid these side effects, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and eat fruits, vegetables, and fibre each day. An unusual side effect of tablets can mean a change in the colour of your stool, but this is nothing to be alarmed about. It’s completely normal.

Taking a low dose iron supplement is unlikely to result in any harm. This level is 17 mg or less a day. Higher than this, e.g., 20 mg per day, can potentially cause more serious effects. This includes inflammation of the stomach lining and risk of ulcers.

040122 KW Vegetology Multi V J Dawson 404 1 X1 2

Why is iron important for vegans?

Research indicates that vegans need up to 1.8 times more iron than people who eat meat. Without meat in their diet, it can be harder for vegans to keep up their iron levels.

For vegetarians who eliminate meat, low iron intake and anaemia can be due to an iron deficiency. For vegans, who give up all animal products including dairy, eggs, and even honey, anaemia can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale and dried apricot.

However, there are ways for vegans to get enough iron from their diet. There is plant based sources of iron that they can take. There are two types of iron in the diet, called haem and non-haem iron.

Haem iron is found in meat and non-haem is found in foods of vegetable origin. These aren’t as readily absorbed as animal-based heme iron so due to lower absorption; vegans might need iron supplements instead such as vegan iron tablets and vegan iron supplements available to buy that can help.

Why is iron important in pregnancy?

Iron is very important in pregnancy. It’s important to maintain iron levels in all three trimesters from the early stage, growing a baby to preparing to give birth. Yet in the second and third trimester iron intake is increasingly more important. This is because your baby and your needs are at their greatest.

Taking an iron supplement from preconception through to three months after birth is a good idea. The suggested dose is 120 mg elemental iron and 2800 µg (2.8 mg) folic acid provided weekly throughout the pregnancy. You should start taking this supplement as early as you can from when you find out you’re pregnant.

Iron is essential in pregnancy as the volume of blood in your body increases which means you need more iron than normal. Your body also uses iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to the baby.

If you don't have enough iron stores or get enough iron during pregnancy, you could develop iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency anaemia can make you feel tired and exhausted.

If iron levels in pregnancy drop too low, it can be dangerous for the pregnancy and result in anaemia. Severe anaemia can also lead to complications. For instance, it can weaken your immune system and make infections more likely. It also increases the risk of the baby weighing too little at birth (low birth weight) or even arriving early (preterm birth).

Vegan 01