It is the most abundant metal in the universe. By mass, it is the most common element on our planet and makes up much of the Earth’s core and part of its crust.
As for minerals, humans (in fact, most living things) cannot produce them themselves and do not need them to any great extent. But without even that little bit, we would all be dead. That is the irony of iron.
What is iron?
How hemoglobin works. (Credit: Designua/Shutterstock)
Iron is one of several essential nutrients (meaning we must get it from the foods we eat) that humans need to maintain good health and the proper functioning of many of the body’s critical operations.
Why do we need iron?
In the case of iron, we use it to make a few hormones; It is also important for our immune and reproductive systems and for general growth and development.
What does iron do for the body?
But where you really need iron is in your blood. The mineral is a crucial ingredient in the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without iron, you would have no hemoglobin. Without hemoglobin, your body would not receive oxygen. Without oxygen, you would die. (Iron is also important in the production of another protein, myoglobinwhich stores oxygen for use in muscle tissues).
Read more: What do your blood test results mean?
How much iron do we need daily?
(Credit: Tatjana Baibakova/Shutterstock)
The good news is that the average healthy human body doesn’t need much iron; in fact, only milligrams. According to the current FDA GuidelinesThe daily value for iron is 7 milligrams per day for children ages 1 to 3 and 18 milligrams daily for adults and children ages 4 and older.
What are the best sources of iron?
For most of us, and as with most minerals, our body gets all the iron we need through a regular diet. healthy diet. Iron is abundant in most animal meats, as well as seafood and poultry. You’ll also find it in spinach, peas, most beans, nuts, and even some dried fruits, such as raisins.
Many modern convenience foods are also fortified with iron, especially cereals and bread. And, of course, you can obtain iron through nutritional supplements, although this method of administration has been subject to some controversy over decades. Because, unless they have an underlying health problem, most people don’t really need iron supplements.
How long have iron pills been around?
Vintage advertisement for Carter’s Iron Pills. (Credit: Boston Public Library/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY SA 2.0)
Supplemental iron has been available in various formulations since ancient times. The Greeks knew its uses and benefits, and some type of suitable iron supplements have been available since the 17th century. In the 19th century, certain medical entrepreneurs marketed iron pills to the masses: Carter’s Iron Pills (later known as Carter’s Little Liver Pills) was one such popular example.
When did iron supplements become popular?
In the 20th century, one of the most sought-after supplements of all time rose to prominence in American popular culture: Geritol, an iron and B vitamin supplement (available in both pills and alcohol-infused liquids). His famous, or perhaps infamous, marketing campaign promoted this supplement as a panacea for what was often called “iron-poor blood.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, Geritol was everywhere: a major magazine advertiser and a sponsor, especially on television shows of the time. You couldn’t escape it or the promise that a good dose of iron was all one needed to boost energy levels and speed up that sluggish bloodstream.
Ultimately, the company that produced Geritol received a cease and desist order and fined for misleading claims about the benefits of Geritol. Although the product’s popularity waned thereafter, Geritol is still available today and, as a supplement, actually has certain benefits… but only for some people.
What are the risks of iron deficiency?
Pregnancy is just one of several possible conditions that require iron supplements. (Credit: FotoDuets/Shutterstock)
Having a low iron count is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world, affecting up to 5 million Americans. Low iron levels are a common cause of another health problem: iron deficiency anemiain which patients lack enough red blood cells to carry oxygen effectively throughout the body.
This form of anemia affects more than one billion people worldwide. That said, taking iron supplements can be very beneficial if you suffer from iron deficiency.
Read more: Eating paper in search of missing nutrients
What are the causes of iron deficiency?
The causes of iron deficiency can vary. Children and the elderly may be at risk for low iron levels, as may people who suffer from nutritional problems. malabsorption affairs. For people who are pregnant or tend to have heavy menstrual periods, iron deficiency can also be a problem.
How to treat iron deficiency
For these and other conditions, iron supplementation (in pill, liquid, or intravenous infusion form) can help and even save lives. However, the exact form of iron and the dosage required are factors that must be determined by a doctor.
If you simply feel tired and sluggish, and you have not been diagnosed with iron deficiency or a condition that may cause it, there is no guarantee that increasing your daily iron intake will improve your physical or cognitive functions.
Read more: Is it bad to take pills on an empty stomach?
What happens if you take too much iron?
(Credit: Innovative Creation/Shutterstock)
To be clear: the average person does not need iron supplements; We get a lot from our diet. If you take more iron than your body needs, your system may store some, but not all, of it. And if you take excessive amounts, you could get very sick.
What are the symptoms of iron toxicity?
Iron toxicity is a serious problem that affects thousands of people each year. As a form of accidental medicine. overdoseIt was for years the main cause of death in children under 6 years of age, and adults have also suffered from it.
If you take too much (for most adults, that’s more than 45 milligrams of elemental iron per day), you may experience mild symptoms such as dizziness or nausea, possibly upset stomach, cramps, and diarrhea.
What are the symptoms of iron poisoning?
Daily doses greater than 60 milligrams per kilogram of body weight can be fatal, especially in children. If you take even more than that, your symptoms are likely to be much worse than an upset stomach. Serious symptoms of iron poisoning It can include fluid in the lungs, vomiting blood, seizures, coma, liver failure and, of course, death.
Read more: Can healthy foods be toxic?
Should I take iron supplements?
So, iron supplements are definitely helpful in the right circumstances, but they are by no means the miracle elixir that supplement gurus and entrepreneurs have claimed over the years. In fact, as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of evidence to show that too much iron can actually be bad for you.
Think about this the next time you are in the vitamin and mineral aisle, and if a certain metallic element presents itself to you as a perfect panacea for whatever ails you, exercise a little critical thinking and, if necessary, a willingness to iron. to resist the temptation to take more than you really need.
Frequently asked questions about iron supplements
When should you take iron supplements?
For maximum absorption, Iron supplements should be taken without food.. This is because a lower gastric pH facilitates better iron absorption.
Do iron supplements cause constipation?
Iron supplements can cause constipation and other gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and in rare cases, intestinal obstruction.
Do iron supplements make you gain weight?
Weight gain is not commonly reported as a side effect of iron supplementation. In fact, one study showed that iron deficiency Patients with anemia treated with iron supplements lost weight. compared to those who did not take supplements.
Why isn’t my body absorbing iron supplements?
Poor absorption of iron supplements. It can be attributed to several factors, including type of iron, dietary inhibitors such as calcium, timing and dosage of intake, and overall gut health.
How long do iron supplements take to work?
A study that analyzed pooled data from five randomized trials (comparing oral and intravenous iron replacement therapy for iron deficiency anemia) showed Improvement in hemoglobin levels in 14 days.. Improvement of iron deficiency symptoms usually begins between 2 and 4 weeks after starting supplementation, while hemoglobin levels may take up to 2 months to normalize.
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