Iron is an essential element carrying oxygen, forming part of the oxygen-carrying proteins - hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle. It is also a component of various enzymes.
Body iron is concentrated in bone marrow, liver, and spleen.
The production of hemoglobin and myoglobin (the form of hemoglobin found in muscle tissue) requires this nutrient.
It is also needed for the oxygenation of red blood cells, a healthy immune system and for energy production.
Severe iron deficiency results in anemia, and red blood cells that have a low hemoglobin concentration. Anemia in pregnancy increases the risk of having a premature baby or a baby with low birth weight.
In young children, iron deficiency can manifest in behavioral abnormalities (including reduced attention), reduced cognitive performance and slow growth. In adults, severe iron deficiency anemia impairs physical work capacity.
Symptoms of iron deficiency may include fatigue, poor stamina, intestinal bleeding, excessive menstrual bleeding, nervousness, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. It may also cause your mouth corners from cracking, brittle hair, difficulty in swallowing, digestive disturbances and spoon shaped nails with ridges running lengthwise.
The dosage is the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), but be aware that this dosage is the minimum that you require per day, to ward off serious deficiency of this particular nutrient. In the therapeutic use of this nutrient, the dosage is usually increased considerably, but the toxicity level must be kept in mind.
In the case of microelements, such as trace elements, the amounts are very small, yet they are still important.
The indicated dosage for males is 10 mg per day, and 18 mg per day for females.
Toxicity and symptoms of high intake
High iron content in the body has been linked to cancer and heart disease.
People of European origin, sometimes have a genetic abnormality for storing excessive iron (1:300) where ten percent of these populations carry a gene for hemochromatosis. Iron supplements are the leading cause of death in children - so keep the supplements out of the reach of children.
A fatal dose for children could be as little as 600 milligrams. Iron can be poisonous and if too much is taken over a long period could result in liver and heart damage, diabetes and skin changes.
Large iron supplementation may also contribute to the hardening of arteries, heart disease and reduce zinc absorption.
Best used with
Iron should be taken between meals with Vitamin C, while manganese, copper, molybdenum, vitamin A and the B group are also beneficial. Iron in a supplement should be nearly balanced with zinc.
When more may be required
Iron absorption is negatively affected when oxalic acid - found in spinach, Swiss chard, tea, coffee soy and some pulses. Antacid medication, coffee and tea drinkers at mealtimes, people on calorie restricted diets and women with a heavy flow during menstruation may require more iron.
Enemy of nutrient
Try to cut out tea and coffee at mealtimes. Iron supplements should not be taken together with calcium, zinc or vitamin E if in the form of ferrous sulfate.
Other interesting points
Some research being done is to test the possibility of high iron stores in the body being responsible for an increased risk to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, through oxidative mechanisms.
Heme iron (present in red blood cells and muscles) found in meat, poultry and fish - and is readily absorbed; Non-heme iron - with the absorption more influenced by other dietary factors, are present in cereals, fruits, grain, beans and vegetables.
Iron is found in the following Zest for Life products