I want to be very clear here – iron supplements will improve energy levels only in people who are deficient in iron.
While iron deficiency is fairly common, it’s also dangerous to get too much iron (which is easy with supplements), which is why iron supplementation should be done with a doctor’s direction.
Let’s take a quick look at why iron can make some people feel more energetic.
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How Do Iron Levels Affect Energy?
Iron does many things in the body, but the vast majority is used to make hemoglobin (1).
Hemoglobin is an essential part of red blood cells that carries oxygen as they travel from the lungs to other tissue in the body.
In other words, a lack of iron ultimately results in a shortage of red blood cells.
It’s not hard to imagine that not getting enough blood or oxygen in your body has many side effects.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiencies
Being chronically tired is one of the most common symptoms of an iron deficiency.
If left untreated, an iron deficiency can develop into iron deficiency anemia, which is where symptoms become more common and severe. These include (2):
- Extreme fatigue and weakness
- Headaches and dizziness
- Brittle nails
- Pale skin
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
If you think you have some of these symptoms, an iron supplement may be needed, but don’t go rushing to buy one yet – get checked out first.
How to Confirm Low Levels of Iron
A good way to stay on top of your iron levels is to simply donate blood. Your hemoglobin should be tested each time, so you can see if it’s abnormally low, which is a pretty reliable marker of iron levels.
Obviously if you suspect you already have an iron deficiency, you shouldn’t donate blood.
Instead, go see a doctor.
There are multiple ways to test iron levels, ranging from directly testing the amount of iron in your blood, to testing other markers like transferrin (a protein that moves iron).
If anemia or a minor iron deficiency is diagnosed, you may have a few different options. A supplement is likely going to be one of them, but an injection may be best in some situations.
Will Iron Supplements Improve Energy Levels Right Away?
It will take time for iron supplements to improve energy levels.
Research has shown that it takes up to 8-12 weeks of iron supplementation to correct most iron deficiencies (depends on the severity).
Someone may start to feel better before that full period, relative to their new “normal” low energy levels, but it typically takes quite a while to feel “good” and energetic again.
Are Some Iron Supplements Better Than Others?
Most doctors will give you some instructions on which iron supplement to get if you need one in most cases.
That’s because some forms of iron absorb better than others.
See my guide to the best plant-based iron supplements if you’d like to learn about the different forms, but in short, chelated and carbonyl iron are 2 good options.
Note that taking iron supplements when you don’t need them, or taking lower quality iron supplements are more likely to cause side effects like constipation, headaches, nausea, and stomach pain.