The iron found in our body is mostly in red blood cells in the form of hemoglobin and the muscle cells in the form of myoglobin. This is a mineral that is important because it has several functions in the human body. Because of this, it is important to know the importance of iron!
It’s easily found in different foods and if you have a deficiency, that leads to quite a few problems. But they are easy to identify if you know what you are looking at. Here’s all you need to know about this essential mineral.
What Is Iron?
For starters, iron is used to carry oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body. Iron carries the oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. It is also a big factor in fighting anemia which is the result of iron deficiency.
Anemia is an important diagnosis because it can be caused by kidney problems, during pregnancy and chronic diseases.
Get the right amount of iron and you will see that there are a lot of benefits.
Benefits Of Iron
There are many vital functions that are dependent on the levels of iron in your body. It’s not something that gets a lot of credit. But when you do have a deficiency, you will see why it is so important. Let’s take a detailed look at the benefits.
Iron is a very important mineral in pregnant women. This is because the volume of blood and red blood cells, in particular, increases a lot when a person is pregnant. As you would expect, the fetus needs a lot of nutrients and oxygen. So, pregnant women need more iron than the others.
Conveniently, the body tends to absorb more iron when a person is pregnant. And if the body is not getting enough iron, the baby might be born prematurely, underweight, might have low iron storage.
It also tends to affect the cognitive and behavioural aspects of the baby after birth. And there is an increased risk of infection in the mother too because lack of iron impacts their immune system.
Better For Athletes
Iron deficiency is more commonly noticed among athletes even in comparison to those who are not physically very active. This is particularly applicable to younger female athletes, like runners. Some experts say that it is a factor of endurance that can be fixed by increasing their daily iron intake.
When an athlete experiences iron deficiency, they don’t perform as well and their immune system also takes a hit. This is likely because their hemoglobin levels are low and the physical exertion takes a toll on how well the body can carry oxygen to their muscles.
This is not true just for athletes. Any healthy individual can benefit from a good dose of iron intake. Since it carries oxygen to different parts of the brain, iron is important when it comes to physical and mental performance. Not enough of it might affect your ability to focus, reduce your stamina and make you irritable.
Foods With Iron
The problem with iron is also that the small intestine isn’t great at absorbing large quantities. This makes it easier for anyone to have an iron deficiency. Luckily, there are plenty of foods that contain iron. And if that’s not enough, you can consult your doctor and get a supplement.
Dietary iron comes in two forms—heme and non-heme. The former is easy for the body to absorb and is found in many animal sources. The latter comes from plants and the body takes some time to absorb it. That’s one of the major reasons why vegetarians need about twice the amount of iron as meat-eaters.
Here are some good sources of iron:
- Dry, plain and fortified cereals
- White beans
- Cooked spinach
- Canned tomatoes
- Baked potato
- Roasted cashews
- Dark chocolate
- Cooked oysters
- Beef liver
Daily Recommended Dose Of Iron
As is the case with most vitamins and minerals, the Recommended Daily Allowance of RDA varies from person to person based on age, sex and health conditions like pregnancy. It’s also different for vegetarians and meat eaters. But here’s an outline for those who want to get an idea.
- 0 to 6 months, it’s 0.2 mg
- 7 to 12 months, it’s 11 mg
- 1 to 3 years, it’s 7 mg
- 4 to 8 years, it’s 10 mg
In boys who are:
- 9 to 13 years, it’s 8 mg
- 14 to 18 years, it’s 11 mg
- 19 years and more, it’s 8 mg
In girls who are:
- 9 to 13 years, it’s 8 mg
- 14 to 18 years, it’s 15 mg
- 19 to 50 years, it’s 18 mg
- 51 years and more, it’s 8 mg
In pregnant women, it’s 27 mg. In lactating women who are 14 to 18 years, it’s 10 mg and in lactating women over 19, it’s 9 mg.
Side Effects Of Iron
But if you don’t do it right, a lot can go wrong. Here’s what that world is like.
If you take too much iron, your body might struggle to get rid of the excess, which can be toxic for your vital organs like heart and liver. This happens when you have medical conditions like hemochromatosis, which makes your digestive tract absorb more iron than it should. The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure you don’t take more than 40 to 45 mg every day.
On the other hand, if you don’t get enough iron, you might end up with a deficiency. That might lead to many problems.
In babies, that can be:
- Weight gain
- Lack of appetite
- Looking pale
- Falling sick more often
In adults, it can be:
- Reduced attention span
- Anemia (which is the most common problem due to vitamin or mineral deficiency in the world)
- Trouble forming new red blood cells (also caused by blood loss which is chronic)
The way you know your body is in trouble is by identifying the symptoms in time. Here’s what they are.
- Bruising easily
- Physical paleness
- Anxiousness (not anxiety)
- Brittle nails
- Cold hands
- Weird cravings (like wanting to eat soil)
- Joint pains
- Changes in the skin tone
Iron doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. It carries some very important functions at a cellular level and does so quietly. Like Linkin Park famously sang “You don't know what you've got until it's gone”.
So, better give it some love while it’s still around.