Best Absorbed Iron Supplement
In the old days, there might well have been some truth in the idea that liquid iron supplements were worth the extra money because they were absorbed by the body much more easily than tablets and this form is the best absorbed Iron supplement form. These days, however, in terms of iron absorption, the format in which you take your iron supplement is probably the least of your concerns. What does matter is dosage and digestibility and the format in which you take your supplement can influence both of these.
Iron supplements come in numerous formats but are basically powders or liquids.
Ultimately all supplements on the market at the moment are either a powder or a liquid. The three most popular forms of supplements currently available are: tablets (compressed powders), capsules (edible containers of loose powder) and liquids. With this in mind, we’ll focus on these three forms and see how they compare.
At this point in time, tablets are the clear winners when it comes to convenience for manufacturers, retailers and consumers and that convenience translates into cost savings all round and hence lower prices.
What’s more, tablets have two great advantages when compared to other forms of iron supplements. Firstly they are shelf-stable, in other words, they hold their potency over the long term so consumers can buy in bulk if they need to and know that they will still benefit from their iron supplement. Secondly, they are very easy to dose.
Basically, when it comes to tablets all the dosing is undertaken by the manufacturer. They will tell you exactly how much iron is in each tablet and from that you can work out how many tablets you need to take per day.
Tablets come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and strengths and so for most people a bit of research is all they need to find an iron supplement which is right for them. The possible exception to this is children who may resist being given tablets, but accept a liquid iron supplement.
In many ways, capsules are much the same as tablets, but the details can make a real difference. To begin with, capsules are more expensive to produce and have a shorter shelf-life than tablets. This is the real reason why they are more expensive than tablets, nothing to do with better absorption.
Some people may find them easier to swallow, which is fair enough, but vegetarians, vegans and those whose religions prohibit certain types of meat, may want to read ingredients’ lists carefully since the actual capsule is often made from animal-based products.
The final point to remember is that with capsules, dosage is convenient but inflexible. With a tablet, it’s usually pretty straightforward to break it up if the user wants to reduce the dose. With a capsule, you’d have to open the capsule and start working with the powder to adjust the dosage, which arguably rather defeats the point of buying capsules in the first place.
Liquids are the usually the most expensive forms of iron supplement on the market, but again, it has to be emphasized that while there are valid reasons for this, absorption is not one of them.
The main reason for the price premium is simply that liquids are more expensive to manufacture, transport and store and these costs have to be passed on to the end user.
Similarly, there are valid reasons for preferring liquids to solid supplements, most of which revolve around the fact that they’re simply easier to swallow (and may taste better). This is good news for adults and even better news for parents trying to dose children. Again, however, this has nothing to do with absorption, other than the fact that getting an iron supplement into the body in the first place is a prerequisite for absorption!
For the sake of completeness we’ll run through a few of the main, niche formats for iron supplements.
Caplets - frankly this is just marketing speak for tablets which are designed to be very easy to swallow.
Softgels - are basically capsules which are completely sealed and sized and shaped to slide easily down the throat. As yet, however, they can only be taken whole rather than cut up like tablets or even opened like standard capsules. Also, most softgels use gelatin, there are very few versions which are free of animal products.
Chewables - chewables basically try to make taking an iron supplement as attractive as taking a soft sweet. The main issue with them is that they tend to achieve this by using flavourings and sugar to make the iron supplement more palatable. This is, of course, hardly a healthy approach.
Powders - there are relatively few iron supplements available in powder form, but if you want pinpoint accuracy of dosage, it could be worth seeking them out.
Now that we’ve covered the supplement formats and explained what they mean in real terms, we’ll try to clear up the confusion about absorption.
Best Absorbed Iron Supplement Review
In the world of medication, fast absorption may be a significant benefit, particularly when it comes to pain relief. It is, therefore, completely understandable that some over-the-counter drugs are marketed on how quickly they work. It’s also completely understandable that people may assume that they want their supplements to be quickly absorbed, since supplements, like medication, essentially come under the category of healthcare.
The logic is totally understandable, but it’s off the mark. Basically, there is a limit to how much work your body can do at any one time and that includes the work of digesting nutrients. If you found an iron supplement which released all its nutrients immediately, then unless it was very low in potency, the chances are most of those nutrients would be wasted as the body would be unable to process them during the digestive cycle.
Hence even though it is true to say that some forms of iron supplements are absorbed more quickly than others, for example, liquids are typically absorbed more quickly than tablets or even capsules of an equivalent dose, the fact is that, generally speaking, there is no real practical benefit to this. Taking iron supplements is not a race. There are no prizes for absorbing your iron more quickly than the next person.
What does matter is taking your iron supplements at the right time and in the right way. Usually you want to take your iron supplement with food, preferably a meal, so that your digestive system is active and your stomach acids can get straight to work on your iron supplement. Ideally you want to take your iron supplement in combination with vitamin C, as this does help absorption, but avoid calcium as this is believed to hinder it.
This seems like a good moment to clear up another common point of confusion about absorption. Supplements of any sort have to be digested to be absorbed. This means that they need to be broken down in the stomach. The digestibility of an iron supplement is often one of the major factors distinguishing brand-name products from their cut-price counterparts.
In simple terms, a budget iron supplement and a brand-name iron supplement might have the same headline values in terms of iron content, but the more expensive supplement will probably have the benefit of extensive research and development to make it as digestible as possible and therefore easier for the body to absorb.
To put it another way, even though a liquid might seem easier to digest, if you have to choose between a budget liquid and a brand tablet, you might well find the latter to be the better option.