The importance of iron is hard to overstate. When the body does not get sufficient iron, it cannot produce red blood cells. When it cannot produce red blood cells, it cannot deliver oxygen to the tissues and muscles. Without iron, we cannot survive.
Iron functions by helping form hemoglobin, a critical component of the red blood cells which carry oxygen from the lungs to every nook and cranny in the body. Iron is so important to our health that the body actually recycles it. When red blood cells die, their iron is recaptured and returned to the bone marrow so it can be used again in the next generation of red blood cells.
Of all the trace minerals, we have more iron in our blood than anything else (although the actual quantity is rather small). The adult female typically has only about 2 grams in total; the adult male has about 4 grams. Nearly two-thirds of our iron is in hemoglobin with the balance stored in places such as the liver and in enzymes.
There are two forms of dietary iron available from food.
- Heme iron found in meats and fish, and
- Non-heme iron which is obtained from plant or dairy sources.
The body's normal supply of iron is maintained by the body itself; it adjusts and controls the amount it absorbs from the food we eat.
- Every living cell contains iron.
- Iron promotes normal red blood cell production.
- Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin.
- Hemoglobin is the protein that transports oxygen in the blood.
- Iron plays a role in delivering oxygen to the cells, including muscle cells.
- Iron plays a key role in energy metabolism.
- The amount of iron in the body is affected by many factors including physical attributes, food restriction, even exercise.
- For better absorption of calcium and iron, the two minerals should not be taken at the same time.
- As you know, iron's major role is to deliver oxygen to our tissues and muscles. It does this primarily by making and using hemoglobin. But iron is also a core component of another protein called myoglobin which stores oxygen in the heart and skeletal muscles. Myoglobin serves as a warehouse of oxygen which can be tapped during periods of high metabolic activity like heavy exercise.
- Cells need oxygen to convert food into energy, but if iron supplies are short, less hemoglobin is produced and less energy can be generated. This is why people who are deficient in iron tire easily. Iron is also required by other enzymes essential for energy metabolism.
- As an essential cofactor in the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, iron is important to the proper functioning of the central nervous system.
- The body's immune system, which builds resistance to stress and disease, is dependent on iron.
- Iron is critical for the regulation of cell formation and growth, especially among children.
- Iron supplementation appears to improve health in children and adolescents who were previously iron-deficient.
A healthy level of iron can be achieved with the help of iron supplements, or by eating foods rich in the mineral. Here are a few good dietary sources:
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