by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Iron is one of the most essential minerals required for the overall functioning of the human body. A small amount of iron can lead to a huge impact on the body. From the production of red blood cells and transportation of oxygen to energy utilization and improving muscle functioning, iron plays an important role in growth and development.
Let’s explore more about the roles and benefits of iron and iron supplements.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition or disease. You should always consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen to ensure you are healthy enough to do so and to ensure the supplements will not interact with any medications you may currently be taking.
Food items That Are High in Iron
Here’s a list of food items rich in iron:
- Animal-based sources: Shellfish, fish, red meat, liver, eggs, and more.
- Plant-based sources: Green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, legumes, and more.
Iron from animal sources is easily absorbed by the body, whereas iron from plant sources, known as non-heme iron, cannot be absorbed so easily. However, intake of vitamin C along with plant sources of iron helps improve the absorption.
The Health Benefits of Iron and Iron Supplements
Below is a list of the various health benefits associated with the consumption of iron as well as the use of iron supplements.
1. Healthy Pregnancy
During pregnancy, the volume of blood and production of red blood cells increases dramatically to supply necessary nutrients to the fetus. Because of this, there is an increased demand for iron through the foods consumed in the diet as well as iron supplements.
The body maximizes iron absorption, and insufficient intake can lead to an iron deficiency. And as per studies, iron deficiency during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, low iron stores in infants, or low birth weight. Also, because of low iron, pregnant women are more prone to infections, as iron helps boost immunity.
2. Boost Energy Levels
Iron helps carry oxygen to your muscles and brain and is essential for mental and physical health. A deficiency of iron can affect the efficiency of your body to use energy. Apart from that, an iron deficiency can lead to a lack of focus, low stamina, and irritability.
3. Boost the Immune System
When it comes to strengthening your immune system, iron plays an important role. It contains properties that are capable of preventing and treating various types of health conditions. It helps in the production of red blood cells, which is vital for repairing tissues and preventing cell damage.
4. Help Improve Sleep
If you ever find you are not able to sleep, even after a long and tiring day, chances are you may have an iron deficiency. And, before this condition worsens, it is better to incorporate a few iron-rich foods into your diet or iron supplements if you want to restore your deep sleep.
As per a study, there is a positive correlation between iron supplements and the quality of sleep. The deficiency of iron can impact the sleep cycle and sleep quality.
Iron is a crucial mineral that keeps you healthy and full of energy. However, low iron levels are quite common and may lead to symptoms like poor concentration, shortness of breath, tiredness, pale skin, headache, and more. If you witness any of these symptoms, it is better to consult a healthcare professional to identify and treat low iron levels.
One of the best ways to reverse an iron deficiency is to consume foods containing iron as well as utilize iron supplements. It should be noted that iron supplements can provide faster results than diet alone. Iron supplements work amazingly well for people with low levels of iron.
A few people are not able to maintain adequate levels of iron include:
- Pregnant women
- Infants or kids
- Frequent blood donors
- People experiencing heavy blood flow during periods
- People with heart failure
- People consuming iron-depleting medications
- People following a vegan diet
How Much Iron is Too Much Iron?
The need for iron depends upon various factors like age and sex. The recommended daily value is 18 mg. As per the National Institutes of Health, vegetarians need to consume twice as much iron as the average daily recommended intake.
Why Do Women Need More Iron Than Men?
Both men and women need iron. However, women need more iron because of menstruation. A woman loses up to 200-250 mg of iron per pint of blood in 4-5 days of the menstrual cycle.
Apart from that, pregnancy also impacts the iron requirement in the body. A woman loses a lot of blood during delivery, which can increase the risk of an iron deficiency as well as infections.
What’s the Bottom Line?
You cannot overlook the importance of iron and iron supplements. It is one of the most important minerals that help your body to function at an optimal level.
However, it is critical to note that iron supplements can cause harm to your body as they contain iron doses in high amounts and can cause digestive issues, and reduce the absorption of nutrients.
So, if you are planning to add iron supplements to your routine, it is recommended to consult with your healthcare professional. They can better advise you on what is best for your body.