Iron is a mineral. Its main function is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells in our bodies. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. During this process the mineral takes the form of myoglobin for oxygen storage. The myoglobin is stored in various parts of the body such as bone marrow, spleen or the liver until it is needed.
This minor mineral also helps with the removal of carbon dioxide from the body and energy production. The daily recommended intake for adults is 8 mg per day. However, females of childbearing age require 18 mg per day. Most adults find it difficult to get in the recommended intake on a daily basis.
What happens when levels are low?
When levels are low anemia can set in. Anemia is common and curable. Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) is a result of an imbalance intake, storage or loss preventing full function of the body. Deficiency occurs in three stages: mild, marginal and IDA. Symptoms include, fatigue, body weakness, lower immune function, dizziness, hair loss and headaches. Despite being a minor mineral, it is essential for our bodies from birth to adulthood for brain development and continued growth. It is so important that our bodies intake enough iron.
On the flip side there is a risk to consuming too much. Excess intake of iron is becoming more and more common as individuals increase their use of multivitamins. The max limit is 45 mg per day. Anything over this will increase the risk of metal toxicity which leads to rosacea, redness of the face and a rare lung cancer, pulmonary alveolar proteinosis.
Are Iron Supplements Safe?
Foods high in the mineral include red meat, poultry, fortified foods, beans, liver, clams and even chocolate. However these may not be enough for some people. In this instance it may be beneficial to take an iron supplement. While taking these, under the supervision of your doctor is generally safe, keep in mind that you may experience some side effects. These can be an upset stomach, nausea or constipation. To relieve the latter increase your daily fiber content and water intake.
There are two forms of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme is found in the meat of animals such as meat, seafood and poultry. None-heme version comes from plant based sources such as spinach, beans, grains and nuts. Other great sources are dried apricots, sunflower seeds, sardines, tofu and prune juice.
To increase the absorption of this essential mineral adding vitamin C goes a long way. Overall a balanced diet which includes a variety of foods from different sources is the best way to increase your daily intake.