Iron is an element necessary for the production of hemoglobin, and thus for the transport of oxygen in the blood. However, this mineral component also affects many other processes in the body.

Iron is a very important microelement and its deficiencies can disrupt the work of the entire system, and lead to undesirable symptoms. Despite this, insufficient supply of the element is still a common phenomenon in society. What to do about it?

Iron - what is it?

Iron is a chemical element classified as a transition metal. It is a mineral present in the bone marrow, liver and spleen.

Iron absorption occurs in the duodenum and small intestine. In the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract, iron is bound in the form of ferritin, i.e. an intracellular protein that is a store of the element in the body.

Types of iron

There are two types of iron in the diet:

  • heme iron, which is found in animal products,
  • non-heme iron, obtained from products of plant origin.

Heme iron is distinguished by a much better degree of absorption in the body (about 20%, while non-heme iron - about 5%).

Iron absorption

Some substances and compounds have a positive effect on the absorption of iron, while others hinder the whole process.

To facilitate the absorption of the element in the body, it is worth including products rich in vitamin C and B vitamins, especially folic acid, in the diet.

In turn, ingredients that hinder the absorption of iron are, i.a. phytic acid, zinc, calcium, phosphorus or magnesium.

Also, some drugs can negatively affect the absorption of micronutrients, i.a. heartburn drugs.

It is worth remembering that the degree of absorption of iron from the diet depends on the amount of the element already accumulated in the body, i.a. in the liver. If the body's reserves are large, the absorption of iron from food is limited. In turn, if there are deficiencies of the component in the body, the ability to absorb the element increases.

Food rich in iron

Sources of heme iron include food products such as:

  • offal (in particular pork and poultry liver),
  • red meat,
  • poultry,
  • fish,
  • seafood.

In turn, non-heme iron is found in products of plant origin, such as:

  • dry legume seeds,
  • whole wheat bread,
  • egg yolk,
  • some vegetables, i.a. parsley, beets, broccoli,
  • some dried fruits, e.g. apricots, plums,
  • nuts.

Iron properties

Iron is primarily a component of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, which is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body's cells. In addition, the microelement is a component of many enzymes that are involved in the synthesis of DNA and neurotransmitters.

Iron is also part of myoglobin, a protein that allows muscles to take oxygen from the blood needed for work.

The element also participates in the production of red blood cells, or erythrocytes, which takes place in the bone marrow. In addition, the micronutrient can affect cholesterol metabolism and promote the detoxification of harmful substances in the liver.

Iron can also support the immune system, as it helps fight bacteria and viruses in the body. The element can also reduce the feeling of fatigue and support the work of the nervous system.

The body's need for iron

The need for iron depends on age, gender and physiological state.

In newborns, a high level of the element and a high concentration of hemoglobin can be found.In the second half of life, however, the reserves are depleted and it becomes necessary to supply the microelement to the body with food.

The need for iron increases during puberty and among women during menstruation. Also during pregnancy, an increased supply of the element is indicated, because iron is necessary to cover the needs of fetal, placental and maternal tissues.

According to the Nutrition Standards, the demand for micronutrients among adult men is 10 mg / day, while among women from 19 to 50 years of age - 18 mg / day, and after 50 years of age - 10 mg every day. In the group of pregnant women, this value is as much as 27 mg / day.

Among adolescents, the daily iron supply should be 10 - 12 mg for boys (depending on age) and 10 - 15 mg among girls (depending on age and the occurrence of menstruation).

Iron deficiency

According to research results, iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of the population may suffer from insufficient supply of a micronutrient.

Iron deficiency symptoms

So what are the symptoms that may suggest an insufficient level of the element in the body? The most common are:

  • vertigo,
  • increased heart rate,
  • fainting, caused by hypoxia of the body,
  • depressed mood,
  • somnolence,
  • pallor of the skin,
  • hair loss,
  • dark bruises under the eyes,
  • headaches,
  • problems with concentration,
  • increased susceptibility to infections.

Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, i.e. anemia, which is the result of impaired heme synthesis and the formation of erythrocytes smaller than normal, containing less hemoglobin.

The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include weakness, pale skin, deterioration of hair and nails, as well as burning of the tongue.

Among athletes, iron deficiency can lead to deterioration of well-being, lower aerobic capacity, deterioration of athletic performance and lower ability to recover.

Causes of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency can result from malnutrition, as well as the occurrence of malabsorption. In addition, people on plant diets are exposed to an insufficient level of the element, because their menu does not contain heme iron, which is distinguished by high bioavailability compared to non-heme iron.

As a result of various types of bleeding and even intense menstruation, there may be a significant decrease in iron levels in the blood. Also in some diseases of the digestive system, such as gastric ulcer or duodenal ulcer, an increased demand for this ingredient can be observed, which often results in deficiencies.

Excess iron

Excess iron in the body is a rare phenomenon. It usually results from improperly used supplementation or poor diet, rich in red meat. An overdose of the element can also be caused by repeated blood transfusions or hemochromatosis, i.e. a metabolic disease that involves excessive absorption and accumulation of iron in the body.

Initially, excess gives similar symptoms as a deficiency of the element. It can be observed i.a. general weakness, fatigue, joint pain and weight loss. In addition, excess iron can contribute to the onset of constipation and flatulence, nausea and hormonal disorders.

Iron supplementation - for whom is it recommended?

Dietary supplements rich in iron, after consulting a doctor, can be used by pregnant and lactating women, as well as by ladies who have abundant menstruation.

In addition, an increased demand for micronutrients can be observed among people suffering from digestive system diseases, such as stomach ulcers, which is why it is worth considering the use of dietary supplements in this group.

Vegetarians and vegans are exposed to an element deficiency due to the resignation from sources of heme iron in the diet, which is why among supporters of plant-based diets it is also worth including iron-rich dietary supplements in the daily menu. Also, athletes should take into account the benefits of supplementation, because the data shows that the demand for iron in this group can be up to twice as high as the base.

It is worth remembering that dietary supplements rich in iron should always be taken with products that increase the absorption of the element (e.g. with orange juice rich in vitamin C). Then, in turn, food rich in compounds that negatively affect the absorption of micronutrients should be limited in the diet. You should avoid, for example, coffee or tea.

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