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Iron is a mineral that's necessary for life. Iron plays a key role in the making of red blood cells, which carry oxygen. You can get iron from food and from supplements. If you don't have enough iron, you may develop anemia, a low level of red blood cells.

Why do people take iron?

Iron supplements are most often used for certain types of anemia. Anemia can cause fatigue and other symptoms. If you have symptoms of anemia, seek care from your health care provider. Don't try to treat it on your own.

Iron supplements are often used to treat anemia caused by:

  • pregnancy
  • heavy menstrual periods
  • kidney disease
  • chemotherapy

Iron supplements have also been studied for treatment of ADHD. While early data suggested a benefit, more study is needed before iron can be recommended for ADHD.

Iron supplements are commonly recommended for infants and toddlers, teenage girls, and women who are pregnant or of childbearing age to help prevent anemia. Before taking an iron supplement, ask your health care provider if it is right for you.

How much iron should you take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the iron you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.

Category

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

CHILDREN

7-12 months

11 mg/day

1-3 years

7 mg/day

4-8 years

10 mg/day

9-13 years

8 mg/day

FEMALES

14-18 years

15 mg/day

19-50 years

18 mg/day

51 years and over

8 mg/day

Pregnant

27 mg/day

Breastfeeding

Under 19 years: 10 mg/day



 

19 years and over: 9 mg/day

MALES

14-18 years

11 mg/day

19 years and up

8 mg/day

Take iron supplements with a full glass of water or food. Strict vegetarians may need to take in higher levels of iron.

At high doses, iron is toxic. For adults and children ages 14 and up, the upper limit -- the highest dose that can be taken safely -- is 45 mg a day. Children under 14 should not take more than 40 mg a day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that -- starting at 4 months of age -- breastfed infants should be supplemented with 1 mg/kg per day of oral iron. This should continue until iron-containing complementary foods, such as iron-fortified cereals, are introduced in the diet.

Also beginning at 4 months of age, partially breastfed infants (more than half of their daily feedings as formula or milk) who are not receiving iron-containing complementary foods should receive 1 mg/kg per day of supplemental iron.

Ask your health care provider how much iron supplement you or your child should take, if any.

Can you get iron naturally from foods?

For most people, a good diet provides enough iron. Natural food sources of iron include:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Vegetables, like spinach, kale, and broccoli
  • Dried fruits and nuts
  • Beans, lentils, and peas

Iron is also added to many fortified foods, such as cereals and enriched breads.

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