You may remember iron from your chemistry class. Iron is a fundamental element present in the periodic table. It is a mineral, which, apart from being the major constituent of steel, and other macro alloys, is also the building block of proteins and enzymes in our body. Iron is an essential mineral, and is responsible for many functions, including the transport of oxygen around the body. But, many people, around the globe, end up having iron deficiency.
What Is Iron?
Most of us may be iron deficient, but iron happens to be the most abundant mineral on earth (oh, the iron-y). Even in humans, 70 percent of the iron is usually found in red blood cells, as an integral part of hemoglobin, and is also present in the muscle cells in the form of myoglobin. Hemoglobin are the main transport unit for oxygen in the body, while myoglobin collects the oxygen, and supplies it to the mitochondria of the muscle cells, for producing energy.
Two Types of Iron
There are two major variants of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is the more easy-to-absorb iron, and is easily assimilated into the body. Heme is only found in animal-derived foods, like meat, fish and poultry. Heme iron makes up around half of the iron present in such foodstuffs, whereas the other half is made up of non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant-sourced foodstuffs, like beans, vegetables, fortified foods, dry fruits, and even eggs.
How Much Iron Do You Actually Need?
The recommended daily allowance of iron for men is 8 milligrams, for postmenopausal women is 8 milligrams, for premenopausal women is 18 milligrams, and for pregnant women is 27 milligrams.
If you’re a vegetarian individual, your iron allowances are almost two times higher to make up for the lack of non-heme iron you would’ve gotten through meat. The non-heme iron present in vegetarian foodstuffs is usually harder to assimilate, and hence, a higher dosage is recommended.
Iron Deficiency, And Iron Overdose
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. Menstruating and pregnant women, children, and frequent and recent blood donors are the most vulnerable candidates for iron deficiency. Anemia caused from iron deficiency causes fatigue, dizziness and headaches.
It is very hard to overdose on iron through just food. Our bodies are extremely adept at regulating its iron intake, and if the body ends up having too much of it, it is very much capable of blocking iron absorption. However, consuming iron excessively could lead to iron overdose. This is one of the major reasons why older men are advised not to take iron supplements. Apart from this, individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis are also advised not to take iron supplements. Iron overdose can affect organ functions, and causes thickening of blood.