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Why do Iron Supplements Cause Constipation and How to Relieve it

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Iron supplements are essential for those with iron deficiency, but they can cause unpleasant side effects such as constipation. In this article, we will delve into why iron supplements lead to constipation and share tips on how to prevent and relieve this common issue.

The Science Behind Iron-Induced Constipation

Iron is poorly absorbed by the body, which can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. This bacterial imbalance often causes constipation. The type of iron supplement can also play a role in the likelihood of constipation. For example, trivalent iron (e.g. Ferrum Lek prescription drug) may cause constipation more often compared to divalent iron salts.

Tips for Preventing Constipation from Iron Supplements

To reduce the risk of constipation when taking iron supplements, consider the following strategies:

  1. Choose iron bisglycinate supplements, known for their high bioavailability and stomach-friendly properties.
  2. If starting with a higher dose of iron (such as Superiron 60 mg), try taking half the dose during the first week to see how your body reacts.
  3. Consider taking iron every other day to minimize side effects, especially if you are not pregnant.

How to Relieve Constipation Caused by Iron Supplements

If you're already experiencing constipation from iron supplements, try these tips to alleviate discomfort:

  1. Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration and promote bowel movements.
  2. Engage in regular physical activity, as a sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate constipation.
  3. Consume fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to bulk up stool and encourage regularity.
  4. Incorporate fermented foods, like sauerkraut and yogurt, into your diet to support gut health.
  5. Avoid constipation-promoting foods, such as unripe bananas, excessive meat, and dairy products.

Special Considerations for Certain Populations

Some individuals are more prone to constipation and should take extra precautions when using iron supplements. These groups include:

  1. Pregnant women, who often experience slower metabolism and require daily iron supplementation.
  2. Elderly individuals, who may naturally experience more constipation.
  3. Those taking certain medications, such as opioids, Parkinson's disease medications, diuretics, or verapamil.
  4. Individuals diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

If you are experiencing severe constipation and pain, consider pausing your iron supplementation for a few days while you focus on hydration, fiber intake, and regular toilet visits. Once your symptoms improve, you can gradually reintroduce iron supplements, starting with a lower dose or less frequent use.

In conclusion, iron supplements can cause constipation due to poor absorption and the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. By choosing the right type of iron supplement, adjusting the dosage, and maintaining a balanced diet and lifestyle, you can effectively prevent and relieve constipation caused by iron supplementation.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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