What is Iron?
re you struggling with fatigue, weakness, or low immunity? If so, you may be interested in learning about the mineral iron.
In this article, we explore iron and how optimizing levels can supercharge your health!
Iron is an essential trace mineral for good health. It's found in all human cells and is required as a cofactor in hundreds of biochemical processes. The majority of iron is used to form healthy red blood cells and transport oxygen around the body.
Iron can't be made in the body and needs to be obtained from the diet. A byproduct of hemoglobin breakdown, heme iron is the most bioavailable form found in animal products – particularly red meat and seafood. Non-heme is a less absorbable form found in plant foods like legumes, whole grains, dates, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Interestingly, consuming vitamin C with non-heme iron improves its absorption (1).
How Iron Works
As a cofactor in DNA synthesis and many enzymatic processes, iron is necessary for growth and development, a healthy metabolism, and many other aspects of health. However, its main role involves producing a protein called hemoglobin, needed for the formation of healthy red blood cells (2). About two-thirds of the body's iron is found in hemoglobin.
In red blood cells, hemoglobin binds to and transports oxygen throughout the body and transfers it from the lungs to all your living cells. A portion of iron is also found in myoglobin in muscle cells, allowing the muscles to store and use oxygen.
You can't exist without oxygen; it's essential for the optimal function of every cell, tissue, and organ. Without sufficient iron, red blood cells become malformed and their oxygen-carrying capacity drops, resulting in anemia, confusion, fatigue, and weakness.
The recommended daily intake for iron is higher for women than it is for men because women lose blood (and therefore iron) every month from menstruation. It's recommended that women of child-bearing age consume roughly 18mg daily, while men need just 8mg (3). The recommended intake in children varies according to age:
- 0-6 months: 0.27 mg
- 7–12 months: 11 mg
- 1–3 years: 7 mg
- 4–8 years: 10 mg
- 9–13 years: 8 mg
- Males 14–18 years: 11 mg
- Females 14–18 years: 15 mg
Signs of Low Iron Levels and Risks for Deficiency
Symptoms of low iron levels are common and include fatigue, weakness, poor concentration, shortness of breath, a swollen tongue, low immunity, insomnia, and palpitations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), iron deficiency is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies worldwide (4).
Factors that increase the risk of iron deficiency include:
- Vegan and vegetarian diets
- Intense exercise
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Digestive disorders
- Certain medications
- Excessive alcohol consumption
The good news is, iron supplements can help you meet your daily requirements and offset any symptoms of deficiency.
Health Benefits of Iron
Here are some of the amazing health benefits of iron.
Optimizing your iron levels ensures efficient oxygen transportation to every cell in the body, supporting the production of cellular energy (ATP) by the mitochondria. This enhances productivity and quality of life!
Essential for a Healthy Pregnancy
Women's iron demands increase during pregnancy, with the recommended dose moving to 27mg per day. This is because the blood volume and oxygen needs increase during pregnancy to provide for the fetus.
Additionally, it supports fetal DNA production and the growth and development of the brain, red blood cells, and muscle cells (5).
Improves Exercise Performance
The muscles need significantly more oxygen and energy during exercise, making iron a critical nutrient for optimal physical performance and strength.
Athletes and exercise enthusiasts need to pay special attention to iron consumption because engaging in intense exercise increases susceptibility to low iron levels (6). This is particularly true for female athletes.
Optimal Cognitive Function
The brain is an organ with a high energy and oxygen demand, so healthy iron levels are vital for neurological health and optimal cognitive function.
A 2013 review looked at 32 studies on children aged 5–12 years around the world. It found that iron supplementation improved iron levels and resulted in better cognitive function, IQ scores, and concentration in anemic children (7).
Make Iron Part of Your Daily Diet
Okay you knew it was coming... time for a shameless plug. Do you think the benefits of adding iron to your daily diet could help? Create a personalized daily vitamin pack that includes iron and any other vitamins, minerals or supplements you think could help. Start by adding iron to your Kit here!