Iron (Fe) is essential in the diet and body in order for the blood’s red oxygen carrying pigment haemoglobin to be manufactured. It is found in red meats (particularly liver) and green vegetables.
It is used as a medication in tablet, capsule, mixture or injection forms to treat or prevent iron deficiency and some types of anaemia. Pregnant women are at risk of iron deficiency because the developing baby to build muscle and blood cells. In medication, it is not pure iron that is used, but various salts (compounds) of it such as ferrous gluconate, ferrous phosphate, ferrous sulfate, ferric ammonium citrate, ferric pyrophosphate, ferrous fumarate and iron amino acid chelate.
The normal dose in treatment is one standard tablet or capsule a day on an empty stomach. Iron is absorbed from the gut at a set rate, and using higher doses is unlikely to have any clinical effect. Supplements may cause slight stomach upsets and dark coloured faeces. Constipation and stomach cramps are the only likely effects from an overdose. Iron should not be used if suffering from haemochromatosis, ulcerative colitis, ileostomy or colostomy, anaemia not due to iron deficiency.
The recommended daily intake in the diet is 3 mg. in infants, 8 mg. in children, 7 mg. in men, 12 mg. in women and up to 16 mg. during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Iron supplements interact with many other drugs including tetracycline, penicillamine, antacids, calcium, methyldopa, levodopa, chloramphenicol, cimetidine, thyroxine, phenytoin, cholestyramine and St. John’s wort.