Iron is a chemical element/mineral represented by the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It forms much of Earth's outer and inner core and is the fourth most common element in Earth's crust. Iron plays an important part in biology as well and iron-proteins are found in all living organisms. Most of the iron in the human body is found in the haemoglobin of red blood cells and in the myoglobin or muscles cells. The colour of blood is largely due to the haemoglobin, an iron-containing protein.
How does iron work?
Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to other cells in the body. After the oxygen is delivered, the iron helps the red blood cells carry carbon dioxide waste back to the lungs where it can be exhaled. Iron also plays an important role in other chemical reactions in the human body.
Who needs Iron supplements?
Iron supplements are generally taken to help prevent and treat low levels of iron and anaemia. In anaemia cases, the red blood cells aren't able to carry enough oxygen to the body because of a lack of iron. People with anaemia often feel very tired and experience poor concentration and weakness. Other common symptoms of anaemia are fatigue, general malaise, shortness of breath and palpitations.
Infants too may need iron supplements if they are bottle-fed cow's milk. Blood donors and pregnant women are also at risk of low iron levels and are often advised to take iron supplements. Iron supplements can also be used for improving athletic performance, treating ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Crohn's disease, depression, fatigue, and infertility. Women may also take iron supplements to compensate the iron lost during heavy menstrual periods.
To help your body stay healthy and prevent anaemia and other health complications that result from low iron levels, make sure your diet contains some of the following iron-rich foods.
- lean red meat
- egg yolks
- dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards)
- dried fruit (prunes, raisins)
- molluscs (oysters, clams, scallops)
- Turkey or chicken giblets
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans
- Iron-enriched cereals and whole grains (check the labels)
Eating foods that are high in iron along with foods that are high in Vitamin C will help your body to absorb the iron better. While it's certainly possible to get a good amount of the iron your body needs from food sources, most doctors suggest the use of iron supplements to help fill in any gaps in your nutrient intake.
Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about how many pills you should take and when you should take them. Consuming iron supplements excessively can cause serious medical problems.