The last article I wrote, I discussed the foods that we do not eat and how they
may harms us. Picking up where I left off, I hope you are now fully fed on calcium and ready for the next ingredient. Today’s article will be about another mineral: Iron. Iron is one of several micronutrients that are essential to our bodies. We do not need large amounts of it, only enough! These amounts are small in comparison to other foods, but no less important. Iron is important in all phases of life and all age groups. The most common “disease” people associate with iron deficiency is anemia. True, iron is extremely important for our blood. However, its functions go way beyond those of just producing blood. I need to also emphasize that iron can be extremely toxic to our body if we over consume it. It is just as important to take in and maintain adequate amounts of it as it is not to over do it. There is a certain population of humans who are more susceptible to iron deficiency than others. Remember this simple fact: Our bodies cannot manufacture iron; they have to get it from food. If we lose more iron that we consume, we will end up with deficiency. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide.
1- Menstruating women: Women with heavy periods are at higher risks than others.
2-Pregnant and postpartum women:Pregnant women need to consume more iron for them and their growing baby. They will also need to make up for blood loss during childbirth. It is important to note thought that pregnant women have a “false” anemia. Their blood work may suggest low blood count, but it is actually normal.
3- Infants are born with a six months supply of iron. Breast fed babies have less chance of iron deficiency because of the milk content of the mother. Formula fed babies are at a higher risk of iron deficiency, anemia and poor growth.
4- Toddlers between 1 and 4 years of age are at risk for developing iron deficiency because of rapid growth and a lack of sufficient iron in their diets unless iron- fortified foods or a supplement is available. Remember that milk is a poor source of iron. There is an entity called “milk-anemia” in which babies who drink a lot of milk and not enough foods develop anemia for that reason. Recommended milk intake is two to three cups per day for toddlers.
5- Adolescents: both sexes are prone to anemia because of rapid growth and not enough supply for their much increased demands. They are also more concerned about eating habits and body image. This may lead to under eating and poor nutrition.
6- Long distance running put strenuous demands on our bodies which may lead to destroying our red cells.
7- Strict vegetarians: animal products contain the most bioavailability form of iron. Vegetables and vegetarian products contain iron but have poor bioavailability. (not easily absorbed in the body).
8- People with bleeding sources (intestines, wounds, …)
9- People with chronic diseases (cancer, arthritis,…)
10- People who may have poor absorptions from their intestinal tract because of certain diseases. About 30% of the iron in the human body is in storage to be readily available to replace any that is lost. About three-quarters of the iron in our bodies is active. Of that, about 70 percent is in hemoglobin and 5 percent is in myoglobin (Protein muscles).
The rest of the iron is present as cofactors and enzymes such as catalases, peroxidases, and the cytochromes. These enzymes and cofactors help regulate many many functions in the human body without which life would be impossible. Iron is also found in transition. It is found attached to transferrin, which transports iron to the bone marrow, liver, and other tissues for its functions in processing hemoglobin, myoglobin, and various enzymes. So what if we are deficient in iron? What are our symptoms?
1- Fatigue and lack of energy
2- Pale skin on the lining of the eyes, the inner mouth, gums and
3- Increased heart rate.
4- Postural hypotension:
Low blood pressure when we
change our positions from
sitting to standing.
5- Finger nails become thin, brittle and white. They may grow abnormally and may have a spoon like appearance.
6- Severe menstrual cramping and bleeding.
7-Tongue may become sore, smooth, shiny and reddened.
8- Decreased appetite especially in children.
9- Poor fetal growth and possible mental retardation.
10- Shortness of breath during exercise and decrease exercise tolerance.
12- Decreased immune function and more infections and diseases.
13- Disturbed sleep.
And what if we ate too much iron? Symptoms of iron toxicity
1. Arthritis and inflammation;
2. Increases the risk of asthma;
3. Elevated insulin levels and diabetes;
4. Fatigue and depression
5. Abdominal pain;
6. May elevate blood pressure;
8. Shortness of breath;
9. May favor cancer cell growth;
10. Increased risk of heart attack;
11. Kidney and liver problems;
12. Impotence and disrupted menstruation;
13. Early menopause;
14. macular degeneration;
16. Loss of night vision;
17. Loss of hearing;
18. Loss of body hair;
Notice that some of these symptoms are similar to iron deficiency.
Be careful and DONOT assume anything. There are blood
tests that can be done to assess the levels of iron in our body.
Sources and absorption of iron
Iron absorption is a slow process, usually taking between two
and four hours. Average iron absorption is about 8-10 percent
of intake. Iron absorption can be affected by many factors. It can
be sped up or slowed down. Here are some factors:
Body needs during growth, pregnancy, and lactation
•Hydrochloric acid •Vitamin C •Blood loss or iron deficiency
•Meats (heme iron) •Protein foods •Citrus fruits and vegetables
•Iron cookware •Copper, cobalt, manganese
•Low hydrochloride acid •Antacids •Low copper •Phosphates in
meats and soft drinks •Calcium •Phytates in whole grains
•Oxylates in leafy green vegetables •Soy protein •Coffee and
black tea •Fast gastrointestinal motility