Iron is a vital mineral that is needed for optimal functioning of the body. It is found mostly in the red blood cells and has the important role of carrying oxygen to each cell of the body. It is also needed to produce the energy source of the body – adenosine triphosphate.
Health benefits of Iron
The WHO has sounded a warning that up to 80% people in the world suffer from iron deficiency. Of this 30% suffer from iron deficiency anemia. The health benefits of iron are critical for many medical conditions .
Anemia : Among the many health benefits of iron, the most important role it has to play is to treat anemia that results from iron deficiency. Anemia refers to low iron levels in the blood and some of the common symptoms are fatigue and weakness. Pregnant women, menstruating women and children are the groups that have the greatest risk of iron insufficiency. Two thirds of iron is found in the hemoglobin that transports oxygen throughout the body. Some causes of anemia include pregnancy, heavy loss of blood at the time of menstruation, bleeding ulcers, blood donation and before or after surgery. Those undergoing chemotherapy or with chronic kidney failure also suffer from anemia . Iron is needed to treat pre-dialysis anemia but must be taken only if recommended by a doctor.
Iron is needed to form hemoglobin and gives the dark red color to blood. The capability of RBC to transport oxygen throughout the body is due to the existence of iron in hemoglobin. Those who suffer from iron deficiency will therefore produce less quantities of hemoglobin. This will result in body tissues receiving less oxygen. Myoglobin that is similar to hemoglobin also requires iron to distribute oxygen to muscle cells such as the heart and skeletal muscles .
Benefits related to Cough and cold : ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors that are needed to treat heart failure and high blood pressure produce a dry irritating cough. Many people stop taking ACE inhibitors due to this cough. Iron supplements can prevent or soothe coughs that occur due to ACE inhibitors. The study does not prove if taking a combination of ACE inhibitors and iron is effective or safe. If you do take both, make sure you take them at least 2 hours apart for both medications to be effective. Such iron supplements must only be taken under medical supervision since iron can also cause heart disease.
Fights Fatigue : Iron deficiency can lead to lack of energy and fatigue. Those who exercised regularly or took part in sports and had low levels of iron found an improvement in their performance when they took iron supplements . Iron is an important constituent of many enzymes such as iron peroxidase, iron catalase and cytochrome enzymes that are needed to produce energy. Carnitine, which is a non-essential amino acid also, needs iron for its manufacture. Carnitine is needed for the proper use of fat. Proper functioning of the immune system is also dependent on iron . Since iron is such an important component of hemoglobin, a deficiency in this mineral result in fatigue Therefore, inclusion of foods loaded with iron will keep a person strong, healthy and physically active .
ADHD : Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency are similar to those children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suffer from, such as social responsiveness and decreased attention. Researchers studied the health benefits of iron for children with ADHD and found that it could help them especially if they had an iron deficiency. These supplements must be given only under medical supervision since iron can be toxic in children with normal levels of this mineral in their blood.
Iron Deficiency in Children : Infants and children are the groups most vulnerable if they suffer from iron deficiency. Iron is needed for the growth and development of children. Kids under the age of 18 must be given iron only if a doctor recommends it.
Other Benefits of Iron
- Muscle functioning and overall muscle health is dependent on iron. Iron found in muscle tissues helps in supplying oxygen needed for proper contraction of muscles.
- Brain function and development is also dependent on iron. Iron helps in the supply of oxygen to the blood. Of this 20% of blood oxygen is used by the brain. Hence, there is a direct relationship between brain health and presence of iron in the blood.
- Restless leg syndrome is caused because of iron deficiency. Those who suffer from this condition must ensure they improve their intake of iron.
- Neurotransmitter synthesis is aided by iron. Norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin are essential neurotransmitters and iron helps in their synthesis. These chemicals play a vital role in many activities that involve the human brain and neurons.
- Immune system is strengthened by iron and it plays a key role in fighting diseases and infections.
- Energy metabolism is facilitated by iron as it extracts energy from food that is consumed. This energy is then conveyed to various parts of the body.
- Insomnia and sleeping benefits in humans is improved by taking iron.
- Concentration levels in students and professionals are said to improve with a good diet rich in iron.
Foods rich in Iron
The health benefits of iron in foods is got from two forms – that which comes from myoglobin and hemoglobin of animal tissues and is called heme iron and the other that is got from plants and dairy products and is called non-heme iron. Heme iron food sources include liver, organ meats, fish, poultry, shellfish like oysters and lean red meat. Non-heme iron foods include peas, beans, greens, seeds, nuts, and dark molasses and so on. Iron fortified foods like cereals and breads are also good sources.
Precautions when taking iron
Iron supplements can cause adverse reactions when combined with other medications. Hence it must be taken only under medical supervision. Common side effects of excessive iron include nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, constipation etc. Those who are risk of breast cancer, heart disease, ulcers, inflamed bowels must be careful when taking iron supplements.
The health benefits of iron are significant especially for those suffering from different types of anemia. Apart from this, iron plays a vital role in overall good health and proper body functioning and everyone must ensure they get the right quantities of this mineral.