While most people know that they need iron, few actually understand just how essential it is to our physical and mental health. Here is a quick lesson in iron to help you better understand its importance for well-being.
What Is Iron?
Iron is a mineral that can be found in every cell in the body. About 70% of the body’s iron is in red blood cells (hemoglobin) and muscle cells (myoglobin).
Iron has three important functions, which include:
- Assisting in carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body;
- Helping energy production;
- Keeping the immune system healthy.
The human body stores iron to replace any iron it has naturally lost. Below are some physiologic conditions that can deplete the body’s iron and increase the risk of iron deficiency and related anemia when the iron level is low for an extended period:
- Menstruation (especially when a woman has heavy periods);
- Pregnancy and giving birth;
- Children experiencing growth spurts (0 – 3 years and puberty);
- Intestinal bleeding such as gastric or duodenal ulcers;
- GI issues that make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.
Our iron requirements depend on different factors such as our age and gender. The Dieticians of Canada recommend the following daily iron intake for healthy individuals:
|Men 19 and older||
8 mg per day
|Women 19 to 50||
18 mg per day
|Women 51 and older||
8 mg per day
|Pregnant women 19 to 50||
27 mg per day
|Breastfeeding women 19 to 50||
9 mg per day
There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron, which comes from animal tissue, and non-heme iron, which can be taken from cereal, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. You can get the recommended daily intake by eating foods high in iron. As a start, it is good to be conscious of the common foods you eat and the associated iron content, and you can adjust your diet accordingly (if needed). For those who have less than adequate iron levels (iron deficiency) or even insufficient iron (iron deficiency anemia), your doctor will most likely recommend taking an iron supplement.
Almost every living thing uses iron to survive! It’s important to understand that iron is an essential nutrient required by every cell in our bodies, and it is vital to do what we can to supply our bodies with the nutrients and fuel it needs.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs