Without iron, nothing in the world could live. Not humans, not plants, nothing. Iron is the most abundant mineral on earth and it is present in many of the enzymes and proteins that are involved in keeping the body healthy. The body reuses or conserves approximately 90% of its iron each day. The remaining 10% is eliminated and it’s this 10% that must be replenished otherwise the body runs the risk of developing an iron deficiency.
The major role iron plays is that of an oxygen transport assistant. It’s found in the hemoglobin, a protein inside red blood cells that helps move oxygen out of the lungs so that it can be carried to the body parts that require it. Muscles, tissues and organs all need oxygen. The immune system needs iron too. Iron assists with the metabolization process and it’s crucial in body’s ability to regulate temperature.
One interesting fact about iron is that it has the ability to regulate how much the body absorbs. When current iron levels are sufficient, no iron is absorbed. And that’s good because too much can cause toxicity. When levels start to decrease, the body goes into iron absorption mode.
Iron is present in both mother’s milk and formula, but infants consume a much higher percentage of iron when they are breastfed. Infants that are not breastfed should be given iron fortified formula and/or cereal or an iron supplement.
Sources of Iron
The hemoglobin contains two different types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. The main difference between the two is the absorption capability. The body easily absorbs heme iron but absorbing non-heme iron is more difficult. Absorption rates of non-heme iron can be improved by including meat, fish and vitamin C to the diet.
Another difference is the source of these two types of iron. Organ meats such as liver, heart and kidneys, and lean beef, fish, seafood, sardines, anchovies and poultry are good sources of heme iron. Plant sources provide much of the body’s non-heme iron. Good sources include spinach, oat bran, apricots, kidney beans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, whole meal bread, eggs and soy products.
Organ meats such as liver, heart and kidneys and lean beef, fish, seafood, sardines, anchovies and poultry are food sources that are rich in heme iron. Plant sources provide much of the body’s non-heme iron. Some good sources include spinach, oat bran, apricots, kidney beans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, whole meal bread, eggs, soy products and fortified cereals. Many other foods have been enriched with iron and this is important because most processed foods lose their natural iron supply. Pasta, bread made with refined flour, white rice and ready-to-eat cereals fall into this last category.
Women over age 50 and all older men need 8 mg of iron/day. Any woman who has not yet started menopause needs more, 18 mg/day, compensate for the blood that is lost during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should also get more iron.
Symptoms of an Iron deficiency
Several situations can lead to an iron deficiency. In some people, their bodies are not able to absorb it properly. An iron deficiency can also result from a significant loss of blood whether from a wound or because of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Finally, probably the most common reason for an iron deficiency is the diet. Very simply, many people do not consume adequate quantities of iron-rich foods.
One of the most notable symptoms of an iron deficiency is anemia. Its symptoms include fatigue, reduced mental capacity, insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite and an inability to maintain proper body temperature. An iron deficiency also diminishes the capacity of the immune system.
Dr. John Spencer Ellis
Each week, over one million people enjoy a fitness and wellness program created by John Spencer Ellis. His programs are implemented in the top resorts, spas and health clubs. John is the CEO of NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association), the Spencer Institute for Life Coaching, and the Get America Fit Foundation.
He created Adventure Boot Camp, the largest fitness boot camp system in the world. His TriActive America signature series of outdoor exercise equipment is used worldwide. John has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX, FOX Sports, FOX Reality, SPIKE and ESPN. He is the fitness and lifestyle expert on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County and Daybreak OC (KDOC news). John is the producer of the documentary The Compass (Jan. 2009).