Iron Maiden I Am Not
March 23, 2008 1:30 PM   Subscribe

What kind of iron pills can I take that won't upset my stomach?

My doctor recently told me that I'm severely anemic. I've been a vegetarian for 12 years, so it's no real surprise. She recommended I take these iron pills called "Slow Fe", which is time released and therefore supposedly easier on the stomach. Unfortunately, my body is really sensitive and these pills weren't so easy on my stomach. I had terrible cramping and indigestion.

After talking with my doctor about the side effects, she told me it might be ok for me to take a multi-vitamin that has iron in it. The only problem is, it's not enough. I've ended up nearly passing out at inconvenient times and am getting out of breath from climbing a few stairs. I clearly need a stronger iron supplement. What brand(s) are easy on the tummy?
posted by missjamielynn to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you taking the pills with food?

You can get liquid iron supplements and mix them into orange juice. (Vitamin C helps with iron absorption.) That might be easier on your stomach than pills.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get enough iron as a was a vegetarian, because the non-heme iron in plants is not absorbed as easily as the heme iron in plants. If you won't consider eating meat for your health, then you'll need to work really hard on including more iron in your diet. Spinach is a great source, and one way I've found to make it tasty and easier to eat in large quantities is to sautee it with olive oil, garlic, and salt. Also, switching to cast iron pans for cooking will help add more iron to your diet.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:59 PM on March 23, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I have been taking the pills after dinner. I haven't tried mixing them with orange juice though. Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by missjamielynn at 2:07 PM on March 23, 2008

I was anemic as a child and my mother made me eat raisins. Perhaps you could find a nice veggie alternative to pills.
posted by crustix at 2:29 PM on March 23, 2008

So, I'm in a iron supplement study at the blood bank where I donate (we donate and get free iron tablets in return, and they monitor our iron levels). They claim that ferrous gluconate causes less stomach discomfort in some people than ferrous sulfate does.
posted by divka at 2:31 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem with ferrous sulfate. My doctor told me that a product called Vitron-C is easier on the digestive tract, although I haven't tried it yet.

Also, a number of people I know take carbonyl iron. I don't know how effective it is on anemia, though.
posted by cabingirl at 2:54 PM on March 23, 2008

My son had iron defficiency anemia and supplements caused the same thing with him. The only pills which didn't cause the problem ( and he tried many) were Palafer.
posted by Neiltupper at 3:02 PM on March 23, 2008

We have a fmily legend that my great grandmother was diagnosed with anemia in her teens. Conventional wisdom was to drink a pint of Guiness daily. This was done for more than eighty yearsand the old lady died just months before reaching her one hundredth birthday.

Of couse this is probably bunkum, IANAD, etc.
posted by chairish at 3:08 PM on March 23, 2008

Do you eat any fried foods? Get an uncoated cast iron skillet and anything you fry, make it in the cast iron pan. You'll get iron with your food and can take a weaker supplement. This might help your stomach problems.
posted by nax at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2008

Iron is absorbed better when taken with vitamin C. Slow Fe was always what was prescribed for me, so I'm not sure if there is anything better. Taking with food will help.
posted by 6:1 at 3:38 PM on March 23, 2008

For a while I took a liquid iron supplement I bought at Whole Foods. You have to keep it in the refrigerator and it tastes fairly disgusting (think vinegar mixed with grape juice). But I found it less stomach-upsetting than an iron pill.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:10 PM on March 23, 2008

proferrin forte. ferris iron and not bad on the tum. you do need a prescription though.
posted by pearlybob at 4:32 PM on March 23, 2008

My wife was severely anemic after giving birth; she took Floradix (which may be what ClaudiaCenter was talking about) and reported no stomach or intestinal problems, provided she took it as indicated (I think it has to be taken w/ food). I never got a vinegar flavor from it, though; more like intense raisin-ness. She definitely preferred to take it as a shot rather than linger over it (eg, mix with OJ).

Another incredibly irritating thing we learned was that there's research to indicate that some foods contain chemicals (phytic and oxalic acid) that inhibit the uptake of iron from your diet-- so you can play this game by both seeking out iron-rich foods and avoiding those that prevent its uptake. Where this gets hilarious (aka, totally infuriating) is when you see that spinach, for instance, is high in both iron and oxalic and phytic acids, thereby (so the thinking goes) negating its own goodness.

We ended up using the iron-rich food charts you can find everywhere, and then vetoing based on an oxalic acid chart that we tried to forget was put together by guinea pig owners (who, apparently, care more about oxalic acid content than any other source we could find). If I remember correctly, we drew the line (arbitrarily) at broccoli and ate everything below it. I made record quantities of sausage, kale, and lentil stew.
posted by range at 6:30 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work at a natural food store and often recommend Gentle Iron vegetarian capsules by Solgar to people who have trouble with other iron supplements. Floradix also works for many people, but it's a more broad formula, I believe, and may contain other minerals that you're not looking for.
posted by cheerwine at 6:58 PM on March 23, 2008

Also similar to Floradix is a product called Hema-Plex. It's an iron pill with a bunch of other things in it that are supposed to make the iron absorbed more efficiently.

In the past I have been prescribed ferrous gluconate on the theory that it is less upsetting than ferrous sulfate, but it gave me diarrhea. Everyone is different, though--right now I'm taking SlowFe and it's fine.

I was told by my doctor to always take my iron with either a glass of orange juice or a vitamin C pill, as vitamin C helps your body to absorb the iron better. I was also told not to take iron with dairy products, as iron and calcium block one another's absorption.

On my own, I have read that not only is heme iron (the iron found in animal products) more easily absorbed, but also it helps your body to absorb non-heme iron more readily. The most concentrated sources of heme iron are oysters and clams, surprisingly.
posted by Enroute at 7:37 PM on March 23, 2008

I have a really sensitive stomach, but I've been taking Feosol (ferrous sulfate) without any problems. I found it at Duane Reade. Orange juice makes my stomach hurt, so my doctor advised me to take a vitamin C pill with food.
posted by hooray at 8:15 PM on March 23, 2008

You know, rereading your question, I think maybe you should consider finding another doctor who is more expert in treating this condition. If you are short of breath and nearly passing out, it seems to me that the iron in a multivitamin would fall far, far short of what you need. For purposes of comparison, my recent bloodwork revealed my ferritin levels to be 4 ng/ml (I think that's the correct unit), and it's supposed to be 51. This is a years-long condition for me; even so, I am not short of breath or feeling like I am going to pass out--nowhere near. And I am supposed to take three iron pills a day for at least 6 months in order to get my iron stores back up. I am so obviously not a doctor, but the advice you were given about the multivitamin doesn't sound right for somebody in your condition. I would imagine that you need iron supplementation at least as intensive as what I was told to do, and that relying on a multi might be actually harmful (as you seem to have already concluded).
posted by Enroute at 8:39 PM on March 23, 2008

I'd suggest cutting out foods/drinks that inhibit iron absorption...don't drink tea with meals, etc.
posted by radioamy at 9:39 PM on March 23, 2008

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