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Why is iron so important for health

Updated: May 9

Blood Test for iron

Iron is not just important to your health? Iron is critical to your health and brain function.  The human body needs the right amount, not too little and not too much as with most things.  The most known function of iron is in our red blood cells (RBC) where it enables the cell to take up oxygen in the lungs and transport it to all parts of our body.  The electron transport chain (oxidative phosphorylation) in the mitochondria within cells, uses oxygen in the process to make the energy molecule ATP.

People should get sufficient iron from their diet, it arrives in many foods with the highest concentrations in liver, then chicken and red meat.  But is available from many other sources.  Meat or fish and ascorbic acid are some principal food constituents that enhance absorption of iron.  Spinach is reputedly a good source of iron, however its true bioavailability is as low as 2% meaning that it is almost useless.  The oxalic acid in the spinach binds to the iron preventing the body from accessing it.  This is a common problem for many iron containing leafy greens.

If you are trying to increase your iron through diet then be aware there are other antagonists that interfere with the absorption of iron including: phytates in beans and grains (Phytic acid, the same substance that promotes caries in teeth), tannins and polyphenols found in tea, zinc, caffeinated drinks and fiber.  Phosphates, soya protein products and various "dietary" fibers have been reported to inhibit non-heme iron absorption.  Calcium directly competes with iron for absorption.

This means that a meal including bread or pasta, limits iron and other mineral absorption, promotes tooth decay and spikes blood sugar.  A gluten free diet can assist with iron absorption as it removes some of these anti-nutrients.  Vitamin A and Vitamin C also help with iron absorption. A low carbohydrate diet could be beneficial.

About 50% of the iron available from meat is called “Heme iron” and is the most easily absorbed.   Non-heme iron with a much lower absorption rate comes from many sources including plants.  The amount of iron absorbed depends almost entirely on the composition of your meals.  The body controls iron levels by selectively suppressing absorption using the hormone Hepcidin.

Signs of low iron include : headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, dizziness, low blood pressure, breathlessness, cold hands and feet, pale skin, low immunity, irregular heartbeat, muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome and can contribute to ADHD.

Too high iron levels are also a problem which can lead to joint pain, swollen liver, heart rhythm issues, fatigue and weakness.  Excess iron can build up in the basil ganglia which is the brain area responsible for coordination of voluntary movement and balance.

It is difficult to reduce iron levels. The greatest store of iron is in your blood, so loosing blood such as by hemorrhage, by menstruation or donating blood can reduce it.

Find my book on Amazon here. Seek professional medical advice before making dietary changes, particularly if you have underlying health problems.   

Good health,  George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition.

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