Iron is needed for the whole organism, and is an irreplaceable part of hemoglobin, a substance found in red blood cells. Iron is also in myoglobin (which supplies the muscles with oxygen) and in many enzymes and other elements of the immune system.
Food is the main source of iron, and its level is closely monitored. This means that in cases of increased need for it (growth period, pregnancy and childhood) the absorption increases, while with sufficient iron reserves it decreases.
Iron is lost during bleeding; therefore, women are prone to the lack of this element because they have menstruation. Iron deficiency can also occur in vegetarians, people who are trying to lose weight, and people who do sports with high endurance (such as running or rowing).
How does it work?
Iron is essential for efficient oxygen supply and it can be said that it is indirectly responsible for generating energy in all body cells. Despite this, the iron deficiency in the United Kingdom is very common. According to one government study, most women do not take a recommended daily dose of 14.8 mg. Since iron is found in many types of food, most people – even those who eat ”bad” food – won’t have iron deficiency, but women who have abundant menstruation may have it in very small quantities. For them, as well as people with diagnosed anemia, dietary supplements can help.
MAIN USEFUL EFFECTS: enough iron reserves give a vitality to body, assist the immune system in combating infection and ensure sharpness. Studies show that even a slight iron deficiency in children causes poorer concentrations and poorer results in school.
How much iron is needed?
The recommended amount of daily iron intake for men, as well as for women after menopause, is 8.7 mg, while for younger women this value is 14.8 mg. Increased quantities are not recommended during pregnancy. People will anemia must take extra amounts of iron, iron-rich food, or taking dietary supplements for several weeks or months.
IF YOU TAKE TOO LITTLE: if you take too little iron or lose too much due to abundant menstruations, bleeding from the stomach (common cause of this are medications for relieveing pain in arthritis) or cancer, its reserves are consumed. Initially, there are no difficulties, but as these reserves decrease it is harder to produce normal and healthy red blood cells (erythrocytes). Then anemia occurs due to iron deficiency (sideropenic anemia), whose symptoms and signs are weakness, fatigue, pale skin, a sense of air shortage, heartburn and increased tendency to infections.
IF YOU TAKE TOO MUCH: according to some research, too much iron in the body is associated with certain chronic diseases of the heart disease and colon cancer. This excess is particularly dangerous for adults with hemochromatosis (because theat disease causes accumulation of iron in organs) and for children because they are prone to iron overdose.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: unless your doctor tells you otherwise, iron is taken only as part of multivitamin and multimineral preparations and at recommended daily doses. Anemia requires accurate procedure to detect and treat the cause. The physician usually prescribes iron in the form of a bivalent iron salt (mainly sulphate, fumarate or gluconate). The usual dose is 30 mg, one to three times a day. Most men and women after menopause do not need iron supplements, so they can also take multivitamins or multimineral supplements that do not contain it.
USE GUIDELINES: iron absorption is best if it is taken on an empty stomach. If you experience a feeling of weight in the stomach, take it with meals: some meat and food or drinks rich in vitamin C (e.g. broccoli and orange juice) will increase the absorbed amount.
Liver, beef and lamb are rich in iron, as well as mussels other shellfish. Vegetarians can be supplied with sufficient amounts of this mineral if they eat beans and peas, leafy green vegetables, fruit (apricots, raisins) and enriched grain flakes. Brewer’s yeast, kelp and wheat bran are also good sources of iron.
IMPORTANT: unless your doctor advises you, avoid food supplements containing only iron in larger quantities. Some people suffer from haemochromatosis, hereditary diseases characterized by excessive iron absorption. Most of these people don’t even know they are sick; the first symptoms may be fatigue and joint pain.
Taking dietary supplements containing only iron may mask some causes of anemia and thus prevent the physician to set a correct diagnosis on time. That could cost you your life!