The Importance of Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen to all parts of the body. Iron is also necessary for energy production, DNA synthesis, immune function, and cell growth and repair.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It is especially common in pregnant women, vegetarians, and people on restrictive diets. Without enough dietary iron, the body cannot make enough red blood cells, leading to anemia. Symptoms of anemia can include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, dizziness, headaches, and difficulty concentrating.

How much iron do you need?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is 8 mg per day for adult men and 18 mg per day for adult women. Pregnant women require even more, at 27 mg per day. Iron comes from both animal and plant sources, but it is absorbed more efficiently from animal sources. Some of the best sources of dietary iron include beef, lamb, fish, poultry, beans, lentils, tofu, spinach, and fortified breakfast cereals.

It is important to note that certain dietary factors can affect iron absorption. Eating foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bell peppers, can increase iron absorption from plant sources. Eating iron-rich foods along with foods that enhance iron absorption can help increase the amount of iron absorbed.

On the other hand, plant compounds called phytates, which are found in whole grains and legumes can interfere with iron absorption. Certain medications can also interfere with iron absorption. These include antacids, calcium supplements, and some antibiotics.

Iron deficiency is a serious health concern, and it is important to make sure that you get enough iron in your diet. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of iron-rich foods is the best way to ensure that your body has enough iron. If you think you are at risk of iron deficiency, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.

Multivitamins often contain small amounts of iron. They may not provide enough iron to improve anemia.

Less common signs of anemia

While the most common signs of iron deficiency are those listed above, and the most common solutions are also given above, there are other, less common effects that can come from iron deficiency.

Depression can be a result of iron deficiency. Some people with anemia develop pica, a craving to eat non-food substances like dirt or paper. Anemia is even associated with ADHD in children. 

A blood test can quickly tell you whether you have enough iron in your body or not. If you are concerned, talk with your primary care physician