Importance of iron

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What is iron and why do we need it?

Iron is a mineral that’s a vital component of hundreds of proteins and enzymes needed for our bodies to function. Iron’s many roles include oxygen storage, and transport and energy production.

Oxygen storage and transport

Iron is a key component of hemoglobin and myoglobin, two proteins involved in the transport and storage of oxygen in the body. The role of hemoglobin is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and myoglobin functions to transport and store oxygen temporarily in the cells of working muscle.1

Energy Production

Iron is needed for the activation of a key enzyme known as aconitase. This enzyme is required for efficient energy production from the breakdown of food.

What happens if we don’t get enough iron?

When we don’t get enough iron, many parts of our bodies will be affected. Symptoms of insufficient iron intake may include general fatigue, muscle fatigue, headache, irritability, decreased general health and well-being, and reduced endurance capacity during exercise. Low iron intake may also affect immune system function.

How can I ensure my body gets the iron it needs?

Dietary iron has two main forms – haem and non‐haem. Sufficient iron can be obtained through the diet by consuming a variety of haem iron‐rich foods such as beef, lamb, chicken and fish.2 Non‐haem iron is found in plant‐based foods such as beans and lentils, but it isn’t as well absorbed as animal sources.2 However, non‐haem iron absorption can be enhanced by consuming vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables at the same meal, or at the same time. An iron supplement might be beneficial for those with greater iron needs such as pregnant and lactating women, or for those with inadequate iron intake such as some vegans and vegetarians.

A healthy body maintains an intricate balance of iron. If iron stores are high, the body will absorb less iron from the foods you eat. Conversely, if iron stores are low it will increase your ability to absorb it.2

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Published February 25, 2015
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