Iron is an essential trace element that our bodies need to function optimally. It is a component of haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron also plays a significant role in muscle metabolism and is necessary for the proper functioning of our immune system.
Functions of Iron
- Oxygen transportation: As mentioned earlier, iron is a crucial component of haemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen throughout the body.
- Energy production: Iron is involved in the conversion of food into energy through cellular respiration.
- Immune function: Iron supports the production and maturation of white blood cells, which help our bodies fight infections and maintain overall health.
Good Sources of Iron
Iron can be found in various food sources, both plant-based and animal-based. These include:
- Red meat, poultry, and fish: Haem iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body, is found in these sources.
- Legumes, nuts, and seeds: Non-haem iron, which has lower bioavailability, can be found in these plant-based sources.
- Fortified cereals and grains: Many manufacturers fortify their products with iron to increase its availability in our diets.
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, and collard greens are excellent sources of non-haem iron.
How Much Iron Do We Need?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily intake of iron varies depending on age, sex, and life stage. Here are some general guidelines:
- Infants 0-6 months*: 0.27 mg/day (milligrams)
- Infants 7-12 months: 11 mg/day
- Children 1-3 years: 7 mg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 10 mg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 8 mg/day
- Adolescents 14-18 years (males): 11 mg/day
- Adolescents 14-18 years (females): 15 mg/day
- Adults 19-50 years (men): 8 mg/day
- Adults 19-50 years (women): 18 mg/day
- Adults 51 years and older (men): 8 mg/day
- Adults 51 years and older (women): 8 mg/day
- Pregnant women: 27 mg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 9 mg/day
* The value for infants up to 6 months old is adequate intake (AI)
It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine your specific iron needs.
What are the Signs of Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Brittle nails
- Restless legs syndrome
- Frequent infections
If you suspect you may be deficient in iron, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Iron?
Excessive iron intake can lead to iron toxicity, a condition known as hemochromatosis. Symptoms of iron overload include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of libido or impotence
- Darkening of the skin
- Liver damage
It’s essential to follow the recommended daily intake guidelines and consult with a healthcare professional before taking iron supplements, as excessive iron intake can be harmful.