Iron is an essential mineral many people know little about. It is a part of the blood cells in the body. The main function of iron is to help carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other organs. About 30% of the body’s supply of iron is in storage, ready to be replaced if any is lost. When iron is low, this oxygen consumption slows down.
Iron deficiency is more common than many think. It is estimated that only 65-70% of all Americans meet their daily recommended intake. When depleted, oxygen circulates more slowly. If the body is low in iron, fatigue, irritability and headaches may occur. If the deficiency becomes significant, this can lead to anemia. If left untreated, anemia can be serious, with potentially life-threatening complications.
There are several select groups of people that are more at risk for developing iron deficiencies. First, women are more likely to develop this problem, partly because of the loss of red blood cells during menstruation. Also, pregnant women need to be sure to consume enough iron.
Further, adolescents, both males and females, may be lacking, due to their rapid growth processes. Finally, athletes, especially runners, may be at risk. This is because exercising regularly can cause iron loss through perspiration. Finally, iron absorption can be impaired by the frequent drinking of tea and coffee.
Many foods are great sources of iron. An important part of any healthy diet is to eat a variety of foods; such is the case with iron. Sources include things from dark, green leafy greens (spinach), beans, whole grains to red meat, fish and poultry. There are countless ways to eat enough iron. Supplements are rarely needed. Not only are these all great sources, but many pastas and bread are enriched with iron.
The National Institute of Health recommends the average male should consume about 8 milligrams of iron each day. For women, it varies based on the age. Women, ages 19-50 need more than most people, up to 18 milligrams. On the other hand, women over 50 only need 8 milligrams, just like males. The maximum ever recommended before toxicity might occur is 45 milligrams. *If you are concerned about your iron intake, always discuss supplementation with your health care provider first.
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