Iron And Your Health
Are you always feeling cold, tired and out of breath? If yes, then you’re lacking iron. Iron deficiency can seriously undermine your health, causing poor physical performance and attention span, while increasing susceptibility to infections. As iron level is low, so is the immune system. Therefore, iron deficiency can deteriorate one’s health.
Your body needs small amount of iron for good health. Iron deficiency is very common nowadays in human health and has almost become a widespread nutritional disorder that contributes to nearly 50% of the anemia globally.
Are you always feeling cold, tired and out of breath? If yes, then you’re lacking iron. Iron deficiency can seriously undermine your health, causing poor physical performance and attention span, while increasing susceptibility to infections. Lack of iron may be a culprit for certain diseases, as iron keeps the immune system operating at peak efficiency. As iron level is low, so is the immune system. Therefore, iron deficiency can deteriorate one’s health.
A recent study shows that early iron deficiency can cause irreparable damage to brain cells. Meanwhile, infants, adolescents, children, and women of childbearing age, particularly pregnant moms are identified as those at a higher risk of iron deficiency.
As you’ve already known, the essential part that makes up hemogloblin, the red pigment in red blood cells is iron. Hence, iron plays a major role to enable hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the cells to produce energy during the bodily metabolism. If the present of iron in the red blood cells is too low, the amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin as well will be reduced accordingly. When this situation happens, you’ll experience a medical condition called anemia. That’s why you feel run-down and extremely tired during which your body’s tissues are being starved of oxygen.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
During a rapid growth period, such as during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy, you need an increased intake of iron. These are the moments when new tissues are being built for a healthy growth. Similarly, teenage females and women need more iron than males since they loss more iron during menstruation. Clearly, the iron that is stored in the body is greatly depleted because of menstrual losses. Athletes as well, may also need an increased need for iron to boost their optimum health for a better physical performance.
In general, the following daily iron intake is recommended:
Birth to 6 months: 0.27mg/day (male); 0.27mg/day (female)
7-12 months: 11mg/day (male); 11mg/day (female)
1-3 years: 7mg/day (male); 7mg/day (female)
4-8 years: 10mg/day (male); 10mg/day (female)
9-13 years: 8mg/day (male); 8mg/day (female)
14-18 years: 11mg/day (male); 15mg/day (female)
19-50 years: 8mg/day (male); 18mg/day (female)
> 51 years: 8mg/day (male); 8mg/day (female)
Lactating/pregnant: N/A (male); 27mg/day (female)
According to the US Food and Nutritional Board of the Institute of Medicine, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for iron for people aged 14 years and above, including lactating and pregnant moms, is limited to 45mg daily. Note that for younger persons, including infants, the UL level is slightly lower at 40mg daily.
Get an Iron Grip on Your Health
Generally, iron can be divided into two major sources in our food: heme (pronounced as “him”) and non-heme. Heme is an animal source of iron that is present in poultry, meat, liver and fish, while non-heme iron is present in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.
Your body basically deals with these two types of iron (heme and non-heme) differently. Heme iron is normally absorbed by your body rapidly and your body continues to absorb and store this type of iron regardless whether it’s needed by your body or not. This explains why excess intake of iron from animal sources can lead to excessive iron overloading into your body. On the other hand, non-heme iron is absorbed more slowly because your body will regulate the amount of non-heme iron while absorbing it into the body. In this case, your body will only take what it requires to maintain an optimum health level.
In comparison to animal sources of iron, plant sources of iron are always low in fat and have zero cholesterol. Take 100 grams of spinach for an example, and compare it to the same amount of raw chicken liver, you’ll find that the latter has three times more iron but 345 times more cholesterol than spinach! From here, you realize that the risk of taking liver for iron is far outweighed for its benefits of higher iron content. It has long been known that high iron intake from eating meat or any animal based food is also putting you at a greater risk of getting heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Since the plants have already done a lot of processing, minerals including iron from plant sources contribute to good health. In this process, plants take up minerals from the ground; digest them, before turning them into ionic that can be consumed by other organisms. Therefore, the ionic form of minerals such as iron obtaining from plant sources is more easily assimilated by humans.
Note: Spinach (high in iron, but contains oxalates that block absorption), lentils, kidney beans, potatoes, figs, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, almonds, peas, oats, chickpeas, soybeans and Swiss chard are naturally rich sources of plant-based iron.
Agaricus blazel murill (ABM) mushrooms, soy and spinach are foods loading with exceptionally rich sources of non-heme iron. Being known as “mushroom of God”, ABM mushrooms are an excellent source of iron, calcium, vitamin B1, B2, niancin, phosphorus, protein and amino acids. Soy also has a nutritional power of iron, in addition to ferritin, which has been shown by a study done by a Pennsylvania State University as an excellent nutritional source of iron particularly for those who experienced a slight iron deficiency. In another study by the University of California, iron from soybean was observed to be well-absorbed by nonanemic women. Spinach, a dark and green leafy vegetable, is another great source of iron since it has a lot less calorie than red meat and is totally zero cholesterol or fat-free.
Do You Need to Take Iron Supplements?
If your body doesn’t consistently obtain sufficient amount of iron from the foods you eat, then you may consider taking an iron supplement. There are two supplemental irons available in the forms of ferrous and ferric. In between these two, ferrous iron salts (such as ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate) are well-absorbed forms of iron supplements.
Note: Elemental iron refers to the amount of iron in a supplement
Even though ferrous sulfate is inexpensive as compared to others, it has more side effects. As compared to ferrous gluconate, each 300mg tablet of ferrous sulfate contains 60mg of elemental iron than 36mg of elemental iron in ferrous gluconate, so ferrous sulfate is more likely to cause stomach upset. Ferrous fumarate is more expensive but milder in terms of side effects in comparison to ferrous sulfate. Each 200mg tablet of ferrous fumarate contains 66mg of elemental iron.
Individuals who take iron supplementation might experience possible effects of nausea, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, dark colored feces, and/or abdominal stress. Excessive amount of iron in the blood puts you in a greater risk for an increased oxidative stress, which has been known to be a main culprit for numerous diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Anyone, including postmenopausal women and those with an alarming medical condition called hemochromatosis (a condition which causes excessive absorption of iron) and/or genetic disposition is strictly prohibited to take iron supplementation without prior approval of the medical professionals. This is because hemochromatosis is believed to cause a build-up of excess iron in organ tissues. The deaths of children from ingesting 200mg of iron have been reported. Therefore, you should seek for an immediate medical attention for any case that is related to accidental excessive iron intake.
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