Iron is one of the most important minerals in the human body and it is the most sensitive when it comes to fluctuations in quantity. This powerful mineral is the most essential component of the hemoglobin and it is what helps the transportation of the oxygen from your lungs, through the blood all the way to the tissues and brain. Iron is an important component of the myoglobin which is a protein that spreads the oxygen to your muscles and supports your metabolism, which means that it is an essential component for your growth. When it comes to the Iron present in your food, we have two different types: heme and nonheme Iron and these are unequally distributed among the food sources. For instance, nonheme Iron can only be found in plants and Iron-fortified foods, while other food sources such as meat, seafood and poultry can provide you with both of these types. The heme Iron type is formed when this mineral combines with a protein called protoporphyrin.
There are about 3 or 4 grams of Iron in your blood, as an adult, and the rest is found under the form of ferritin and hemosiderin in other organs like liver, spleen or bone marrow, or even located in your muscle tissue as a component of the myoglobin. The best part about this precious mineral is that it cannot escape your body that easily. You only lose small amounts through urine, feces, digestion and skin and only women lose larger quantities through the menstruation.
There are plenty of sources for this mineral and we start taking it even since we are newborns, through the maternal milk. However, it seems like this source can only provide us with sufficient Iron until we hit 4 or 6 months of age. After that our body’s needs increase and it can no longer deal with the demand. As adults, we get Iron from our daily diets and here are the most important Iron enriched foods that you can get:
- Breakfast cereals – fortified
- Oysters – cooked in moist heat
- White canned beans
- Dark chocolate with 45%-65% cacao solids
- Beef liver – pan fried
- Lentils, drained and boiled
- Kidney beans
- Sardines – canned in oil
- Potatoes – baked in their skin
- Chicken, – roasted
- Rice – white, long and enriched
- Tuna – cooked with dry heat
- Eggs – boiled hard
- Cottage cheese
Aside from this, you can also get your Iron daily needs from supplements in case that your body cannot assimilate enough from food.
The good news is that Iron deficiencies are pretty rare in the US and this is due to the fact that these deficiencies are often assimilated with a poorly thought diet, with various deficient absorption disorders or blood loss. If we look at the global situation, though, another picture reveals. It seems like World Health Organization estimated that an approximately 800 million cases of anemia worldwide are cause by Iron deficiency. In many of these cases the Iron deficiency comes from enteropathies and blood loss associated with gastrointestinal parasites and this is an actual problem in the developing countries from all over the world.
There are basically three different Iron deficiency levels, based on the quantity of Iron present in your organism:
- Mild deficiency – where the case is not that severe, but the actual deficiency can be measured, even though its lower levels do not pose any harm to the subject
- Moderate deficiency – hemoglobin is still within the normal levels, but the plasma levels decline and the subject experiences the first symptoms
- Extreme deficiency – where the Iron stores are depleted and the levels of hemoglobin drastically decline causing health issues of various severity degrees.
Of course, the most important thing to remember is that there are different people that are more predisposed to these types of deficiencies than others and these are the ones that need to pay attention to their diet and consult a specialist if any symptoms may occur. The following groups are most likely to experience Iron deficiencies at one point in their lives:
- Pregnant women – this is because, during pregnancy, the plasma volume and the red cell mass expand due to the large increase in the mother’s blood cell production. This happens because the fetus will manifest its needs and will take away most of the iron from the woman’s body and it is a very important aspect, because a mother who is lacking this mineral during her pregnancy can have problems with her baby. In fact the deficiencies recorded in this mineral in pregnant women are one of the lead causes of infant mortality and premature birth.
- Infants and very young children – when we are saying infants we refer to those that were born preterm, that have a low birth weight or those whose mothers are known to have had Iron deficiencies.
- Women who manifest severe menstrual bleeding – because the menstruation is the one who takes away the Iron from a woman’s body, it is perfectly natural that those who will have more intense bleedings will manifest the higher Iron deficiencies than the others.
- Blood donors – we only talk about those who donate blood on a regular basis, which qualifies once a month as more often than your body can handle.
- Cancer patients – it is pretty common that cancer patients will also record some degree of Iron deficiency and this tendency has been actually observed in up to 60% of the patients having colon cancer. The main cause for that is chemotherapy which will deplete the Iron storage and will induce anemia.
- Patients with gastrointestinal disorders – we have to include here celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and that is because their affections require many surgeries and heavy diets which will cause them to receive a poor Iron quantity.
- People manifesting heart failure – 60% of the patients with heart failure will have a certain level of Iron deficiency and this is due to several factors: poor nutrition, malabsorption, cardiac cachexia and the daily usage of anticoagulants that will cause some blood losses in the intestinal tract.
Since this mineral is one of the most important elements of a human body, it is needless to say that its benefits are quite plentiful. The most important benefits that it will provide you with are:
- The formation of hemoglobin – Iron is primarily involved in this process and can be defined as the key ingredient in the formation of the hemoglobin in your body. Its most important asset is that it will transport the oxygen throughout all your body and this is an essential issue because people can lose blood from all sorts of causes and it is essential that a minimum amount will hold.
- Improves your muscle’s efficiency – Iron works by bringing more oxygen into your muscle mass and this will result in increase physical capacities.
- Enhances your brain functionality – this feature works in two ways. On the one hand Iron will provide you with adequate brain development and will stimulate the oxygenated blood flow. This will result in increase cognitive capacities and prevent some severe diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Regulates the body’s temperature – Iron also regulates your body temperature and this means that enzymatic and metabolic functions can occur in their optimal environments.
- Restless leg Syndrome – since this affection is caused by Iron deficiency, this mineral is also the one responsible for impairing the sickness’s development once you will increase the Iron’s level in your organism.
- Cures insomnia – since this is an affection that is mainly caused by poor blood cells level, Iron is the one mineral that can rectify that.
There are plenty of other benefits and more of them are strongly related to some aggravated diseases that can be successfully tackled by taking Iron supplementation.
It is a bit difficult for healthy adults to experience toxic Iron intakes, but cases are bound to happen. Among the most common symptoms related to Iron overload are: nausea, abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting, faintness, gastric problems and so on. If we look at the more severe cases, the subjects can experience: organ failures, coma, convulsions and even death when the body succumbs. This is a greater danger when concerning children as patients, because they are more vulnerable to toxicity than adults are.
One of the most important applications for Iron is the clinical environment where Iron is being used as a mineral supplement for those in need of blood. Also it is used as a supplementary mineral for some diets lacking it or for those who manifest poor Iron assimilation.