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Iron

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What other names is Iron known by?

Atomic Number 26, Carbonate de Fer Anhydre, Citrate de Fer, Elemental Iron, Fe, Fer, Fer Élémentaire, Ferric Iron, Ferric Orthophosphate, Ferrous Carbonate Anhydrous, Ferrous Citrate, Ferrous Fumarate, Ferrous Gluconate, Ferrous Iron, Ferrous Pyrophosphate, Ferrous Sulfate, Ferrum Phosphoricum, Fumarate de Fer, Gluconate de Fer, Glycérophosphate de Fer, Heme Iron Polypeptide, Hierro, Iron Glycerophosphate, Orthophosphate de Fer, Orthophosphate Ferrique, Numéro Atomique 26, Polypeptide de Fer de Heme, Pyrophosphate de Fer, Sulfate de Fer.

What is Iron?

Iron is a mineral. Most of the iron in the body is found in the hemoglobin of red blood cells and in the myoglobin of muscle cells. Iron is needed for transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide. It also has other important roles in the body.

People take iron supplements for preventing and treating low levels of iron (iron deficiency) and the resulting iron deficiency anemia. In people with iron deficiency anemia, the red blood cells can't carry enough oxygen to the body because they don't have enough iron. People with this condition often feel very tired.

Iron is also used for improving athletic performance and learning problems, and treating attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and canker sores. Some people also use iron for Crohn's disease, heart failure, breath-holding attacks in children, growth in children, depression, fatigue, improving thinking, and the inability to get pregnant.

Women sometimes take iron supplements to make up for iron lost in heavy menstrual periods. Iron-rich foods, such as pork, ham, chicken, fish, beans, and especially beef, liver, and lamb are also used.

Effective for...

  • Anemia caused by chronic disease. Many diseases such as cancer, kidney problems, or heart problems can cause anemia. Taking iron along with other medications such as epoetin alfa can help build red blood cells and reverse anemia in people with kidney problems or being treated for cancer with chemotherapy. Receiving iron intravenously is more effective than taking supplements by mouth.
  • Iron deficiency. Taking iron supplements is effective for treating and preventing iron deficiency and anemia caused by too little iron in the body.
  • Iron deficiency during pregnancy. Taking iron might reduce the risk of anemia caused by too little iron in the body when taken by women who are pregnant.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Coughs caused by ACE inhibitors. Medications used for high blood pressure called ACE inhibitors can sometimes cause coughing as a side effect. Some research shows that taking an iron supplement might reduce or prevent this side effect. The ACE inhibitor medications include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), and many others.
  • Improving thinking. Taking iron might help improve thinking, learning, and memory in children with low levels of iron. An early study suggests that taking iron might improve attention in adolescent girls with unknown iron status.
  • Heart failure. Up to 20% of people who have heart failure also have low levels of iron in the body. Some research shows that giving iron intravenously can improve symptoms of heart failure. It is not yet known if taking an iron supplement by mouth would help.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS). Research shows that taking iron by mouth decreases symptoms of RLS such as leg discomfort and sleep problems. In fact, taking iron to improve symptoms is recommended for people with RLS and low iron levels. Some people with RLS also have improved symptoms after having iron injected into the vein (by IV). But it's too soon to know if all forms of iron work when given by IV.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Developing research shows that taking iron sulfate (an iron-containing chemical compound) improves some measures of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children with iron deficiency after 1-3 months of treatment.
  • Breath-holding attacks. Early research suggests that taking iron by mouth or through a shot reduces the frequency of breath-holding attacks in children.
  • Child development. Early research shows that iron does not improve mental performance in infants and children who do not have anemia. However, there might be an improvement in the development of motor skills such as coordination. Other early evidence suggests that taking iron supplements alone by mouth does not increase growth in children.
  • Fatigue. There is some early evidence that a specific iron supplement (Tardyferon) might improve unexplained fatigue in non-anemic women.
  • Physical performance. Research shows that iron supplementation can improve the ability to exercise in younger women. Additional early research suggests that iron can improve physical performance in children.
  • Canker sores.
  • A digestive tract disease called Crohn's disease.
  • Depression.
  • Female infertility.
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate iron for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


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