Do we need Iron in our Body?

Written by Dr Harold Gunatillake-health writer

Iron (chemical symbol Fe) is a mineral an essential nutrient, with important roles in our body, the main task being to carry oxygen from the inhaled air in the lungs, to every cell in the body for its metabolic activities. It regulates cell growth and very essential for the growing children. If insufficient iron is taken it may limit oxygen transport to cells, resulting in decreased immunity, fatigue, tired and may hinder your normal activities during the day.

Women during the menstrual phase tend to lose more iron from the body, become pale, tired, and may need to check their iron levels in the blood. Athletes seem to lose iron from the body pretty fast, and supplementation is required.

Vegetarians, more likely the Vegans, who restrict their diet without milk, eggs and meat, may have inadequate amounts of iron in their vegetable diets.

On the other hand, too much iron in the body can result in toxicity and even death. There is a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis, a genetic disease where one can be born with an iron overload.

Sometimes, too many blood transfusions can lead to iron overload.

In genetic iron load absorption of iron from the intestines is accelerated and deposited in various tissues and organs, and the most common presentation is hepatic cirrhosis (hardening), in combination with hypopituitarism, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, arthritis, or hyperpigmentation. Because of the severe sequelae of this disease if left untreated, and recognizing that treatment is relatively simple, early diagnosis before symptoms or signs appear is important

Iron in foods is categorized into haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in meat, whereas non-haem iron can be derived from a wide range of plant and animal foods. The human body can absorb and utilize haem iron better than non-haem iron: one up for people who eat meat. Therefore, haem iron has a higher bioavailability than non-haem iron.

The human body's ability to absorb and use iron is affected by other elements, such as vitamin C, phytates and polyphenols. Vitamin C enhances the absorption and utilization of non-haem iron by the human body. Phytates and polyphenols inhibit the absorption and utilization of non-haem iron. Phytates are naturally occurring in lentils, legumes, nuts and whole grains, and polyphenols are found in tea, coffee and red wine. So it is ironical that the very natural foods containing iron is not absorbed through the gut due to the presence of phytates and polyphenols in such foods.

Iron sources for vegans include dried fruits, whole grain, nuts, seeds, pulses and green leafy vegetables. Some iron-rich foods that are usually eaten in small amounts include parsley, watercress and seaweeds.

There is iron in herbs and spices.

Anise Seed 1 tbsp., whole  2.48 mg;
Basil, Dried  1 tbsp., leaves 0.84mg
Basil, Fresh 5 leaves 0.06mg
Cardamom 1 tbsp., ground    0.81mg
Celery Seed 1 tbsp. 2.92mg
Chili Powder 1 tbsp. 1.07mg
Cinnamon, Ground 1 tbsp. 0.65mg
Cloves, Ground 1 tbsp. 0.57mg
Coriander Leaf Dried 1 tbsp.  0.76mg
Coriander Seed 1 tbsp. 0.82mg
Cumin Seed 1 tbsp., whole  3.98mg
Curry Powder 1 tbsp.  1.86mg
Fenugreek Seed 1 tbsp.   3.72mg
Garlic Powder 1 tbsp. 0.23mg
Ginger, Ground 1 tbsp. 0.62mg
Mustard Seed, Yellow 1 tbsp. 1.12mg
Nutmeg, Ground 1 tbsp. 0.21mg
Onion Powder 1 tbsp. 0.18mg
Paprika 1 tbsp. mg; 1.63
Parsley Dried 1 tbsp. 1.96mg
Pepper, Black 1 tbsp.  1.85mg
Saffron 1 tbsp. 0.23mg
Salt, Table 1 tbsp. 0.06mg
Turmeric, Ground 1 tbsp.  2.82mg
Vinegar, Balsamic 1 tbsp. 0.12mg
Vinegar, Cider  1 tbsp. 0.03mg

Iron supplements
Ferric iron — this type of iron is less soluble than ferrous iron in an environment when pH is greater than 3. It has to be converted to ferrous iron so that it can be dissolved and absorbed in the small intestine.

Ferrous iron — ferrous iron is more soluble and easier to absorb than ferric iron. It is frequently used in iron supplements as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous fumarate.

Carbonyl iron — Carbonyl iron is a pure form of iron that is widely used as a food additive and has been studied for the treatment of iron deficiency anemia.  When ingested, it requires gastric acid from the stomach to become soluble. Gastric acid converts the carbonyl iron to ferrous iron, and once this happens, it is absorbed in the same manner as ferrous iron. Because carbonyl iron is dependent upon gastric acid for absorption, it is less toxic and better tolerated than other forms of iron.

Ferralet® 90 is a prescription iron supplement approved for treating anemias that respond to oral iron therapy. Your doctor may prescribe Ferralet® 90 if you have certain anemias associated with pregnancy, blood loss, or metabolic disease, or if you are recovering from surgery or do not have enough iron in your diet.

Ferralet® 90 has not been tested in children. Dosing for elderly patients should begin at the lower end of the dosing range.

If you have certain forms of anemia associated with vitamin B12 deficiency (i.e. pernicious anemia), the Folic acid contained in Ferralet® 90 is not enough to treat your condition. Doses of more than 0.1 mg Folic acid per day can hide the symptoms of these anemias, so your doctor must rule them out before prescribing this product.
So, in future when iron tablets are required, you will know which variety to buy. Most varieties may not be available in Sri Lanka pharmacies.

WARNING: Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6. KEEP THIS PRODUCT OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN. In case of accidental overdose, call a doctor or poison control center immediately.

Before prescribing iron therapy, your doctor will need to determine the type of anemia you have and identify its underlying causes. You should not take this product if you have been diagnosed with hemolytic anemia or an iron overload disorder such as hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis. (Some reference to

Parents should be aware
Children who participate in competitive sports may suffer from endurance persistent fatigue. You may first blame to overtraining or perhaps not enough energy producing carbohydrates.
You need to think of a possibility of low iron, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.
Iron is not formed in the body and you need to get it from your diet.

Iron deficiency anemia doesn’t develop overnight. Instead, depletion of iron occurs in stages. It starts when an individual consumes too little iron to meet their daily needs.

Vegetarian athletes who rely on plant –derived foods are at higher risk for iron deficiency, so it would be the responsibility of the parents to check their blood hemoglobin and iron (Fe) levels frequently to keep the young athletes in trim condition to win. This is important before starting a course of iron tables, as over-dosage give disastrous situations, even can harm the liver...

When this happens, especially among athletic vegetarian children the body is forced to rely on its reserves, and gradually stores of iron in the body become depleted. In the absence of adequate iron stores, red blood cells continue to form, but they are small in size and contain less-than-normal amounts of hemoglobin. This type of anemia is referred to as microcytic anemia.

This article emphasizes the requirement (not excess) of adequate iron for proper metabolic functions, and all parents having athletic orientated children must make note.

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