Iron is one of the most important trace minerals that our body requires, especially for oxygen transportation and growth of our body cells. It gives strength and stamina to our body, but its deficiency might lead to some diseases, the most prominent being anaemia. Let’s find out more about its role in our body.
Why does our body need Iron?
Our body needs Iron especially for the formation of haemoglobin, in the red blood cells, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. It is also a part of the proteins and the enzymes of our body and helps in the regulation of the growth of cells.
How much Iron does our body need?
The requirement of Iron for our body depends entirely on the age and gender. A child, either male or female, needs a daily intake of 8 milligrams of Iron per day, but adult female needs more Iron than a male. An adult male needs a daily consumption of nearly 8-11 milligrams per day while a female requires 15-18 milligrams of Iron in a day. A menstruating woman needs more dosage of Iron than a normal woman, because she loses some Iron during her menstrual periods. The same applies to breastfeeding women. The maximum amount of Iron is required by pregnant women; they require twice the amount of Iron that a normal woman needs.
What are the types of Iron?
There are two types of Iron and it is according to the sources. There is heme Iron which is found in animal foods that we consume, and there is the non-heme Iron which is found in plant foods. Between these two, heme Irons are more easily absorbed than the non-heme Irons.
What are the factors that affect the absorption of Iron?
The first factor is the type of protein. Heme Irons are more efficiently absorbed than the non-heme Irons. From the food that we consume, nearly 35% of heme Iron is absorbed and no other nutrients affect the absorption. On the other hand, the absorption of non-heme protein is lesser (2-20%) and it is hampered by the nutrients such as tannins of tea, calcium, polyphenols and phytates, which are found in legumes, whole grains and soybeans. The absorption of non-heme Iron can be improved if you add some meat and Vitamin C in your daily diet. Another factor would be the amount of Iron stored in our body. If there is enough stored Iron then the absorption is less.
What are the sources?
The sources of heme Iron are meats, eggs, fish and poultry, while the non-heme Irons are found in the dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lentils and other beans.
How does its deficiency affect our body?
Deficiency of Iron in our body will cause anaemia, which is actually a decline in the amount of haemoglobin in our blood. It also gives rise to breathlessness, dizziness, chest pain, headache, and leg pain. If the deficiency is prolonged, it will lead to a burning sensation on the tongue, sores at the corner of the mouth and hunger for various non-food substances.
What are the factors that can lead to Iron deficiency?
Apart from the lack of Iron content in our food, other factors that can lead to Iron deficiency are heavy menstrual blood flow, kidney failure, gastrointestinal disorders and deficiency of Vitamin A; because Vitamin A helps in extracting the stored Iron from our body.
What does our body do when Iron content is less in the food diet?
When our body doesn’t get enough Iron from the food that we eat, then it will use the Iron which it has stored. This stored Iron is the excess which is left after utilising the required amount of Iron from the total Iron consumed from the food. Until the food doesn’t provide enough Iron, the body continues to utilise this stored Iron. If it continues for a long time, then the stored Iron will get exhausted and the body will suffer from Iron deficiency leading to anaemia.
How does excess Iron affect our body?
When our body starts to absorb Iron in excess, the overload is found in blood, liver and heart. Such situations are caused by a genetic disorder known as hemochromatosis, where Iron is absorbed in excess causing organ damage; such as liver cirrhosis and heart failure. Other symptoms of Iron overload are joint pain, lack of energy, weakness, weight-loss, abdominal pain, diabetes etc.