Iron is an essential trace element for the formation of red blood cells, which are the ones that carry oxygen to all of the cells of the body. Therefore it is crucial for the supply of energy to the body and mind.
Symptoms of iron deficiency usually present themselves in the form of fatigue, paleness, hair loss and brittle nails. Lack of iron in the blood especially affects women, vegetarians and vegans.
Iron contributes a great deal to providing the red colour of the cells that distribute the oxygen, inhaled by the lungs, in the bloodstream throughout the body. The liver and spleen contain iron reserves needed by the body.
The body cannot synthesise this basic trace element mineral by itself, so it requires a regular contribution. Each day the body loses approximately 1 mg of this trace element through the intestine, kidneys and skin. Daily iron needs are different for each person, depending on sex, age, lifestyle and fitness.
It is necessary for the production of blood by the bone marrow. The iron in your body is absorbed and deposited in the blood cells and distributes oxygen to the rest of the body's cells.
Oxygen enters the muscles in this way, where it is stored and produces cellular energy and chemical elements needed by the brain.
Iron is recommended for:
Cases of individuals needing a higher intake of this mineral, such as athletes, pregnant or lactating women, people who are going through growth stages (puberty), or people going through long periods of time at high altitude.
Due to inadequate diet, as in the case of vegetarians or vegans.
When there is a loss of blood for various reasons: surgery, accidents, blood donation or menstruation.
For the elderly
Iron and anaemia
Iron is vital for the synthesis of haemoglobin and is thus a key factor in the union of this protein with oxygen.
When the body has little iron available either through blood loss, malnutrition or inability of the body to assimilate enough of it, a very low quantity of haemoglobin and erythrocytes, or red blood cells, are produced. This leads to a deterioration in the overall capacity of the blood to carry out its vital oxygenation action in the tissues.
This is called iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a common ailment and easily treated in most cases. It is usually treated with an iron supplement.
However, this mineral is not the only key element in the manufacture of red blood cells by the bone marrow. Two vitamins in sufficient doses, vitamin B12 and folic acid are also required. The lack of at least one of them also causes anaemia.
Does food contain iron?
The concentration of iron in food is very different in each case. The main foods containing absorbable iron are those of animal origin, especially liver, kidney and organ meats.
The concentration of iron varies significantly in plant foods, including vegetables, cereals (whole), walnuts and parsley.
What symptoms are brought about by an iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency manifests especially in large cities and affects millions of people. The causes are multiple and vary from one area to another.
A balanced diet should cover the normal daily amount required by our body. In stressful situations or under certain circumstances we may have a greater need, so it makes sense to take a dietary supplement of iron to meet it.
In general, the recommended dose of iron is around 10mg a day in normal circumstances, or 15mg when there is an additional need. When the body has an iron deficiency it may take several months until it regains its normal levels.
One solution to quickly recover the levels of this trace element is to add a supplement to the diet. It is also very important to have a good compatibility with the selected product.
Some iron supplements may cause gastrointestinal irritation and constipation problems. But there is a unique form of iron, the chelated type (iron bisglycinate) that has been formulated to improve absorption and is more gentle on the body (non-aggressive).
Lack of iron in children
In recent years, the lack of iron has been addressed by introducing formulas and foods, for babies and children, that have been enriched with this mineral, these were introduced in the early 1970's. However, studies reveal that children do not consume enough iron, as 4% of children between 6 to 12 months of age have a lack of this important mineral.
A lack of iron occurs with 6,6% to 15,2% of children aged between 1 and 3 years of age, depending on ethnicity and socio-economic status.
Preterm newborn infants, babies who drink only breast milk and babies with a probability of developmental disabilities are at greater risk. With iron supplementation for all children this trace element deficiency may be decreased.
The opinion of nutritionists and experts on iron
1. The spinach myth
For many years we have heard the rumour that spinach is rich in iron. However, we now know that the oxalic acid contained in spinach may actually have an inhibitory effect and prevent proper absorption of this mineral by the body.
2. Factors that facilitate or inhibit the absorption of iron by the body
According to the most recent clinical studies, coffee or black tea consumption also reduces the absorption of iron by the body.
Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as freshly squeezed orange juice, facilitate the absorption of iron by the body. In general, only around 10 percent of the iron supplied through food is used by the body.
Side effects and interactions of iron
Dietary iron supplements are completely safe and have no side effects. Each product's instructions provide more detailed information.
People who are taking any medication, pregnant or lactating women, as well as those suffering from kidney disease, should first consult their doctor before taking any iron nutritional supplements.