Iron is a mineral which undoubtedly has a key influence on our health. Iron forms a key component of our blood and plays a major role in the transport of oxygen to our cells around the body. (It’s pretty important). It’s a biologically essential nutrient, meaning that our bodies can’t produce it, so we’ve got to get it through the diet. Despite being a relatively abundant mineral, iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency in the world.
So why is this mineral so important and how do we make sure we’re getting enough of it?
Why do we need iron?
- Helps with oxygen transport – as mentioned, iron is involved in red blood cell production. More specifically, iron is required to produce heme, a component of haemoglobin which is a protein found in red blood cells. The main function of haemoglobin is to transport oxygen from our lungs through our bloodstream to every cell of the body. Without adequate oxygen, our cells are less efficient at producing energy – which can leave us feeling tired. One of the more obvious symptoms of iron deficiency is persistent fatigue.
- Helps increase energy production – in addition to oxygen transport, iron also assists in cellular energy production in the mitochondria (our cells energy centres).
- Key component of our immune system – iron is involved in the healthy production of immune cells, in particular lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are required by the body to fight off infections. That being said, iron is also required for the growth of bacteria and parasites, therefore excess iron is thought to be potentially harmful in some cases. (Keeping iron within normal range is the key here!)
- Key role in brain development and cognitive function – iron deficiency during infancy and childhood has been linked to reduced intelligence and cognitive performance. It plays a crucial role in the development of the brain. Adequate
How do we get it?
There are two main categories of food sources of iron: animal based (heme) and plant-based (non-heme). Heme iron, which is found in animal foods such as red meat and shellfish, is more easily absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron, which is found in plant-based foods such as dark green vegetables, lentils and beans, is less readily absorbed.
Foods that enhance iron absorption are those that are rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicums, and broccoli – to name a few).
Foods and drinks that reduce the absorption of iron are those rich in calcium (predominantly dairy products), as well as tea and coffee.
It may pay to get your iron levels tested! Fatigue is a common symptom associated with many health concerns so it helps to find out if your low energy is related to an iron deficiency or something entirely different. Low vitamin B12 can also cause similar symptoms.
If you know your iron is low, supplementation is crucial. There’s a variety of gentle, plant-based irons available on the market today which are well absorbed and won’t cause you to get blocked up (a common complaint with standard iron supplements).
For more information or guidance to find the best solution for you, come and talk to one of our friendly health professionals.
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for educational purposes only. Please do not use this information to diagnose or treat any health concerns you may have. This information is not intended to replace the advice given to you by a qualified health professional. Get in contact with a Tonic Health consultant or a relevant health professional if you need guidance on your individual health journey.