Description Iron is an essential trace mineral.
Function/ Used for Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin which is present in red blood cells. Haemoglobin is being formed in the body all the time and is the substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body.

Iron also contributes to normal energy metabolism, cognitive and immune function and to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Intake Recommended intake

EU NRV: 14mg


UK average daily intake

Requirements vary depending on age and gender. The UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey lists up-to-date intake requirements and average intakes1.

As a supplement Available as a single supplement. Also commonly available as part of a multivitamin and mineral formula.

Different multivitamin and minerals products will vary in the percentage NRVs they include. People should always check the label for information about a specific product.

Found in (dietary sources) Good sources include liver, kidney, heart, red meat, beef, pork, canned pilchards/sardines, fish, shellfish, wholegrain cereals, eggs, spinach, chicken, leafy green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.

Iron is most easily absorbed from animal sources.

Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant sources.

Deficiency Symptoms include anaemia, concave and brittle nails, sore tongue, cracking in the corners of the mouth, increased susceptibility to infection. Also, tiredness, muscle fatigue, skin itching, dizziness, headache, insomnia, brittle hair and hair loss.
Precautions and contraindications Iron supplements should be avoided in conditions associated with iron overload (e.g. haemochromatosis, haemosiderosis, thalassaemia), and gastrointestinal disease, particularly inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis and peptic ulcer1.

Overdose of iron is dangerous, particularly in young children.


Safe Upper Level: 17mg2

Use in pregnancy and breastfeeding Iron supplementation is not generally required in pregnancy, but iron status should be monitored.
Interactions e.g. with other medications Antacids, tetracyclines (antibiotics), warfarin (anti-coagulant), calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate, and zinc may reduce the absorption of iron – they should be given two hours apart.

Aspirin and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen may cause stomach irritation, bleeding and iron loss which may lead to deficiency. To avoid irritation take with food.

Large doses of iron may increase the requirement for vitamin E.3,4

Adverse effects Iron supplements may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea and constipation, which may lead to faecal impaction (where dried, hard stools collect in the rectum and anus), particularly in the elderly.

Patients with inflammatory bowel disease may suffer  worsening of diarrhoea.

Liquid iron preparations may stain the teeth.3

References 1.

2.     Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals, 2003.

3.     Mason, P. Dietary Supplements. Pharmaceutical Press, London, 2001.

4.     Gaby, A. R. A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions. HealthNotes 2006.