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Everything You Need to Know About Iron
What is iron?
Are you struggling with fatigue, weakness, or low immunity? You may be deficient or have a condition known as iron-deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia happens when your iron absorption or intake is naturally low. Or, you might not get enough iron from your diet, even if you eat lots of iron-rich foods like spinach, seafood, and poultry. If so, you may be interested in learning about the mineral iron and the various supplements and nutrients you can incorporate into your life to combat iron deficiency anemia, fatigue, inflammation, and other conditions.
This article examines iron and how optimizing levels can supercharge your health, especially if you're iron deficient. 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 body uses most iron to form healthy red blood cells and transport oxygen around the body. Unfortunately, iron can't be made in the body and must 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. This makes it difficult for some vegetarians and vegans to get enough iron from their diet, leading to iron deficiency. However, some alternatives can help combat iron deficiency. Non-heme is less absorbable in plant foods like legumes, whole grains, dates, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
Interestingly, consuming vitamin C with non-heme iron improves iron absorption (1). Absorption can help offset iron deficiency anemia and similar conditions and help ensure that your body uses the dietary iron in your system. By promoting iron uptake, absorption is a critical component of health.Shop Now
How does iron work?
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 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.
What is your recommended iron intake level?
The recommended daily intake for iron is higher for women than for men because women lose blood (and therefore iron) every month from menstruation. It's recommended that women of child-bearing age consume roughly 18 mg daily, while men need just 8 mg (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
What are the signs of low iron levels and iron deficiency?
If you're deficient, you might not even know it. However, there are a few telltale iron deficiency symptoms that you can look out for to decide whether or not a supplement would benefit you. Symptoms of iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anemia 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). In addition, iron deficiency anemia can have a few common risk factors that you might not even notice or realize. 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 that iron supplements can help you meet your daily requirements and offset any deficiency symptoms. Unfortunately, iron deficiency poses more risk to United States citizens than you might realize. Finding the right balance is essential, however. It won't help much if you go from iron deficiency straight to iron overload.
Health Benefits of Iron
From improving your immune function to helping you maintain iron homeostasis, when you find a good source of iron, it can have remarkable effects on the human body. If you're trying to hit your daily iron requirements, oral iron supplements can help you maintain your levels. Here are some of the fantastic 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. When you're hitting your daily iron requirements and improving your overall iron availability, it can have a noticeable effect on your energy levels and alertness.
Essential for a Healthy Pregnancy
Women's iron demands increase during pregnancy, with the recommended dose moving to 27 mg per day. This is because blood volume and oxygen need to 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. In addition, 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 ... It's time for a shameless plug. Do you think the benefits of adding iron to your daily diet could help? From immune function boosts to overall energy increases, hitting your iron requirements can have a significant impact on your overall wellness. So first, create a personalized daily vitamin pack that includes iron and other vitamins, minerals, or supplements you think could help. Then, start by adding iron to your Kit here!
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