(NaturalNews) Iron is an essential mineral which surprisingly many people could be lacking. Learn about iron's core functions, symptoms and causes of its deficiency, as well as what high-iron foods to consume.
Iron combines with other nutrients to form blood proteins which are necessary components of hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells (RBCs). The primary role of RBCs is to transport oxygen from the lungs to bodily tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
Iron is also involved in food metabolism and is a cofactor and activator for some enzymes. In other words, iron influences enzymes which play key roles in energy production and metabolism, including DNA synthesis.
The main symptoms of iron deficiency are linked to the reduced delivery of oxygen to bodily tissues and the impaired function of iron-containing enzymes in various tissues.
Iron-deficiency anemia, characterized by very small RBCs, is the most common form of anemia. It must, however, be noted that anemia is the last stage of iron deficiency. Before anemia takes place, iron-dependent enzymes which play roles in metabolism and energy production would first be impacted by low iron levels. In other words, even before anemia sets in, a person who is deficient in iron could already be constantly feeling tired.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
• Anemia • Excessive menstrual blood loss (ironically, also a cause of deficiency) • Impaired immunity • Reduced energy levels, fatigue, can't sustain prolonged activities • Lowered physical performance • Learning disabilities • Poor memory and concentration • Paleness
People most vulnerable to iron deficiency are infants under two, teenage girls, pregnant ladies and the elderly. Research suggests as much as 30 to 50 percent of people in these groups could be iron-deficient.
• Increased iron needs - infancy, adolescence, pregnancy, lactation • Insufficient dietary intake - quite common around the world. Diets typically fed to infants in developed countries, high in cereals and milk, tend to be low-iron. People, especially teens, who consume lots of junk processed foods are also susceptible. • Reduced body absorption and/or utilization of iron - e.g. chronic diarrhea or malabsorption, removal of stomach, antacid use, lack of hydrochloric acid secretion in stomach • Blood loss - excessive menstrual bleeding, peptic ulcers, hemorrhoids
Research also suggests the low-income elderly are most at risk of iron deficiency. Decreased absorption among this group is very common.
In developing children, even slight iron deficiency can cause learning disabilities. This is because a developing nervous system uses significantly more energy than a mature one, and sufficient iron is critical in providing the energy needed for healthy development and growth.
Broadly speaking, heme iron (from animals) is better absorbed by the body than nonheme iron (from plants).
Iron levels in the body need to be carefully balanced as iron overload is linked to higher risks of heart disease, infections and even cancer. It can also harm the liver and pancreas. Iron excess is more common in men and, as such, some practitioners restrict iron supplementation only to persons with iron deficiency and women who are menstruating, pregnant or lactating.
Sources for this article include:
Trivieri, Jr., Larry, and Anderson, John W. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2nd ed. New York, USA: Celestial Arts, 2002. Print.
Murray, Michael, ND, and Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1998. Print.
Stengler, Mark, ND. The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies Medical Doctors Don't Know. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press, 2010. Print.
Murray, Michael, ND., Pizzorno, Joseph, ND., and Pizzorno, Lara, MA, LMT. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books, 2005. Print.
Murray, Michael T., ND. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1996. Print.
About the author: Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth.