What Is Iron?
Iron is a mineral that is vital to the health of the human body and is found in every human cell, primarily linked with protein to form the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin. The human body contains approximately 4 grams of iron.
Many doctors over the years have recommended meats to people suffering from anaemia, despite the fact that consumption of meats can have other detrimental health consequences. Iron, on the other hand is found in abundance in many plant foods.
- Stores oxygen in muscle tissue
- Essential for hair growth
- Essential for a healthy immune system and mental function
- Enhance oxygen distribution throughout your body
- Plays a vital role in the production of energy
Signs of Deficiency:
- Pale appearance
- Heart palpitations
- Pica-the eating of unsuitable and/or inedible materials such as dirt, clay, laundry starch, charcoal, and/or lead paint chips
- Fatigue and weakness
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the United States and around the world.
Factors That May Contribute To A Deficiency:
- Loss of blood is the major cause, (e.g. in menstruation which can cause between 0.5mg – 1.4mg of iron to be lost during every day of the menstrual period)
- Inadequate dietary intake
- Poor absorption
- Parasitic infection
- Medical conditions that cause internal bleeding
- Low stomach acid
- Frequent use of antacids
- Consumption of caffeine
- Phosphates found in carbonated soft drinks
- Tannins found in coffee and tea. Recent research on tea, however, has repeatedly shown that individuals with healthy iron status need not worry about the impact of tea tannins on their iron absorption. These same studies advise individuals who are iron deficient, however, to wait at least one hour after a meal before drinking green or black tea
- Phytates, found in whole grains
- Oxalates, found in spinach and chocolate
Health Conditions That May Be Prevented or Improved With Iron:
- Attention deficit disorder
- Excessive menstrual blood loss
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Parasitic infections
- Restless leg syndrome
- Stomach ulcers
Some Food Sources of Iron:
- Swiss chard
- Romaine lettuce
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- String beans
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Brussel sprouts
Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing:
Milling of grain, which removes the bran and germ, eliminates about 75% of the naturally occurring iron in whole grains. Refined grains are often fortified with iron, but the added iron is less absorbable than the iron that naturally occurs in the grain. Cooking with iron cookware will add iron to food, a practice that can eventually lead to iron toxicity.
Factors That Affect Function:
- Vitamin C (which aids absorption)
- Tannin – found in tea – (which hinders absorption)
- Food preservative EDTA (which hinders absorption)
- Phytates, oxalates and phosphates – found in some plant foods (which can reduce absorption)
Iron supplements should only be taken with the help of a qualified health practitioner as excessive doses can be dangerous – even life-threatening.
Iron poisoning, caused by acute ingestion of large quantities of iron-containing supplements, causes nausea, vomiting, damage to the lining of the intestinal tract, shock, and liver failure, and is a leading cause of death among children.
Chronic iron overload, or excessive iron storage, can cause a variety of symptoms including loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, headaches, bronze or gray hue to the skin, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath.
Although iron overload is not likely to develop from food sources alone, men, because they do not experience iron losses, may be at greater risk for the problems associated with excessive iron.
Recommended Daily Allowances:
- 0-6 months: .27 mg
- 7-12 months: 11 mg
- 1-3 years: 7 mg
- 4-8 years: 10 mg
- Boys/Girls 9-13 years: 8 mg
- Boys 14-18 years: 11 mg
- Girls 14-18 years: 15 mg
- Men 19 years and over: 8 mg
- Women 19-50 years: 18 mg
- Women 51 years and over: 8 mg
- Pregnant women 14-50 years: 27 mg
- Lactating women 14-18 years: 10 mg
- Lactating women 19-50 year: 9 mg
Due to the fact that iron status is influenced by the type of diet consumed and by oral contraceptives, the Institute of Medicine established additional recommendations for vegetarians and for women taking oral contraceptives.
These recommendations are as follows:
- Adult men following a vegetarian diet: 14 mg
- Adult, premenopausal women following a vegetarian diet: 33 mg
- Adolescent girls following a vegetarian diet: 26 mg
- Adolescent girls taking oral contraceptives: 11.4 mg
- Adult, premenopausal women taking oral contraceptives: 10.9 mg