Iron Health Benefits

Published 4/2/14

The human body requires several essential minerals to reach a full development and a sound general state of health. Iron is one of the most important minerals and a vital ingredient comprised by hemoglobin, the erythrocyte protein that transports oxygen from lungs to body tissues.  Muscles and tissues demand a certain amount of oxygen to function properly.  

An ideal iron intake offers many health benefits. It ensures optimal cellular functioning, normal growth and development and also plays an important part in hormone synthesis. The easiest way to maintain healthy iron levels is by eating a diet with foods rich in iron. Studies indicate that iron deficiency represents the most common type of anemia. Statistics show that 2 billion people worldwide are anemic and most of them suffer from a certain degree of iron deficiency.

Iron Deficiency Symptoms

In the absence of iron, the human body isn’t able to produce hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the substance that carries oxygen from lungs to body cells. In this context, iron deficiency anemia may cause prolonged fatigue. Initially, the first signs associated with this health concern may pass unnoticed because of their mildness. Symptoms may include:

·      Dizziness and headaches

·      Weakness and shortness of breath

·      Chest pain

·      Fast heartbeat

·      Pale skin and brittle nails

·      Restless legs syndrome (crawling or tingling sensation felt in the legs)

·      Cold feet and hands

·      Reduced appetite

·      Unusual cravings for inedible products such as starch, ice or dirt

Pregnancy, blood loss, inability to assimilate iron and a poor diet represent the main causes of iron deficiency anemia. Frequent blood donors, women, children and vegetarians are the main categories of people who are more likely to develop an iron deficiency.

Iron Rich Foods

Dietary iron is available in two forms: nonheme and heme. Iron-fortified products and plants contain only nonheme iron, while fish, red meat and poultry contain both types of iron. Excellent sources of heme (offering more than 3.5 milligrams of iron/serving) are oysters, clams, chicken and beef liver, cooked turkey, sardines canned in oil, ham, tuna, salmon and haddock.

Other foods rich in iron are tofu, beans, squash seeds and iron-enriched cereals offer up to 3.5 milligrams of nonheme/serving; split peas, chickpeas, dried apricots, wheat germs, broccoli and baked potatoes are also great sources of nonheme, offering around 2.1 milligrams/serving. One cup of pasta, rice or spinach may also bring 0.7 milligrams of nonheme per serving.  90 grams of lamb liver contain 8.6 mg of iron, 6 oysters contain 3.5 mg or iron and 100g lean beef provides 2.2 mg of iron.

The Ideal Iron Intake

The optimal DRT (dietary reference intake) established for this mineral varies a great deal based on factors like gender and age. For instance, males and females in the 9-13 age group and those over 51 need 8 mg of iron/day; during pregnancy, women require 27 mg/day. Also, women who are breastfeeding need 9 to 10 mg of iron per day.

Importance of Iron in Your Body

While the first signs of iron deficiency may initially pass unnoticed, in the long term they can be linked to alarming health concerns.  Left undiagnosed and untreated, this type of anemia can have severe repercussions that may include delayed growth, heart problems and enhanced risks during pregnancy.

Benefits of iron are that it regulates cell growth. It represents a vital component of myoglobin and hemoglobin, two types of proteins that transport oxygen inside the body. Iron also plays an important role in the processes that occur inside body cells, during which energy is produced for our entire body. This is precisely why iron deficiency is associated with a general state of fatigue. Iron supplements can help users correct this deficiency correlated with kidney disease, pregnancy, abundant menstruation or chemotherapy. 

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