-->What are the health benefits of iron?
Iron is essentially critical to human life. It plays a central role in the hemoglobin molecule of our red blood cells where it transports oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. It also functions in several key enzymes in energy production and metabolism, including DNA synthesis. (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005). Iron helps to strengthen the immune system, improve fatigue and energy levels etc so it is very important to a healthy life!
-->What are possible reasons for deficiency?
There can be various reasons for deficiency including:
- inadequate dietary intake, especially where an individual is eating a highly processed, nutrient deficient diet.
- vegan diet where the non heme iron (plant based) is not as well absorbed as heme iron which is obtained from animal sources. (Bauman, 2019).
- deficiencies of A or copper. (Bauman, 2019).
- taking zinc or calcium supplements at the same time as iron supplements as the minerals compete with each other. (Bauman, 2019).
- increased need such as pregnancy, periods of rapid growth such as adolescence.
- increased loss e.g during endurance training or occult (hidden) bleeding. Bleeding from hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers and even donating blood can cause this loss and the resulting deficiency.
- diminished iron absorption or utilization. This decreased absorption is often due to the lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is common in the elderly. Other causes include chronic diarrhea (often experienced by those suffering from Crohn’s disease), malabsorption, antacid use which suppresses HCL, surgical removal of the stomach. (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005)
It is interesting to note that iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the US with up to 35-58 % of young, healthy women of childbearing age having some degree of deficiency.
Without sufficient iron, you are susceptible to anemia, excessive menstrual blood loss, learning disability, impaired immune function, decreased energy levels and physical performance. In addition, a deficiency of iron may result in a carnitine deficiency. Carnitine is critical in the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria which are our energy producing organelles and this may result in reduced energy production. (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005)
--> Getting enough iron from foods?
The results may vary slightly among laboratories, but in general, normal ferritin levels range from 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) for males and 12 to 150 ng/mL for females. Ferritin is not iron but a protein in the body where iron is stored, and the levels reflect the total iron that is available to your body. Ferritin releases this iron as the body requires it for things like the production of new red blood cells.
-->· What are ways to obtain optimal amounts of dietary iron?
Clams are one of the highest sources of dietary heme iron (which is most efficiently absorbed form of iron), with beef liver, ostrich, sirloin steak, tuna and shrimp providing less but still good levels. High sources of non heme iron are found in plant foods such as soybeans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, black-eyes peas, swiss chard and leafy green vegetables and dried beans etc. Mangoes due to their high iron content are used in India as blood builders and suggested for the treatment of anemia and also to help with pregnancy, and menstruation. Brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses are also other excellent sources. Vitamin C has been shown to greatly enhance iron absorption and vitamin C alone will often increase body iron stores. Also, we should note that it may be wise for iron deficient individuals to limit their intake of certain food and beverages which inhibit iron absorption such as coffee, tea, egg yolk and foods high in phytates such as Brazil nuts and wheat bran. (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005)
-->· What are the dangers of getting too much iron?
Excess iron increases free radical production and is associated with an increased risk of heart diseases and cancer. This may be more likely in postmenopausal women and men as iron is not easily excreted and can accumulate. (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005). Excess iron can inhibit absorption of calcium and too much iron can also increase risk of liver disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome and other inflammatory diseases. In addition, it can accelerate neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s, early-onset Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and epilepsy and MS. (Bauman, 2019). Avoid supplementation unless absolutely necessary as it can cause constipation and upset stomach.
Bauman, E. (2019). Micronutrients lecture 106.3 – Iron, Phosphorus, Sulfur & the Trace Minerals. (Lecture transcript). Retrieved from https://baumancollege.instructure.com/courses/71/pages/106-dot-3-iron-phosphorus-sulfur-+-the-trace-minerals?module_item_id=12404
Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York: Atria Books..