Too much or too little is dangerous with respect to iron intake!


Iron is a mineral found in foods and is considered as a vital one in the formation of blood and many other functions of the body. In India, 80% of women are suspected to be suffering from anemia. This is a very significant cause of maternal mortality in pregnant women. Inadequate iron intake not only causes maternal complications but also fetal abnormalities. Hence the role of iron in human body is of prime importance.

The food sources found enriched with iron are goat liver, dates, green leafy vegetables, jaggery, rice flakes, puffed rice and so on. When these foods are consumed, the following reaction takes place in the body. Iron in the food undergoes the process of digestion and gets liberated from other nutrients with which it is bound. Then iron is absorbed through the intestinal tract and binds with a transport protein to form transferrin. It is this transferrin that carries iron in the blood when the body requires iron.


When the absorbed iron seems to exceed the daily nutritional recommendations, excess iron is stored as ferritin and hemosiderin, which is called the storage protein. If the body does not require this iron, it is lost from the body along with the shed intestinal cells.

The transferrin carries iron to various parts of the body through the blood. Some of the iron is delivered to myoglobin of the muscle cells. The bone marrow incorporates iron into hemoglobin of red blood cells. It is the iron-containing hemoglobin that carries oxygen to different parts of the body especially to the brain for proper functioning to take place. Liver and spleen dismantles red blood cells and packages iron into transferrin. The excess iron is stored as ferritin and hemosiderin.

Iron is lost from the body through sweat, bleeding, skin; and urine. Blood could be lost from the body due to injury, menstruation or by parasitic infections of the gastro intestinal tract. Blood lost during menstruation incurs additional demands of this mineral in women than in men.

The iron lost from the body should be replaced by eating iron rich food. Iron is found both in foods obtained from plant sources as well as animal sources. The animal sources iron is called haeme iron, whereas plant sources are called non-haeme iron. Meat, poultry, fish, goat liver is haeme iron sources, and is easily absorbed when compared to plant iron sources. The plant sources of iron are green leafy vegetables, dates and other fruits.

Vitamin C is found to increase the rate of absorption of iron. Thus when you consume any of the plant derived iron foods; it is good to consume vitamin C rich foods like lemon juice, orange juice and amla. Some food sources are also found to inhibit the iron absorption. Fiber and phytates from whole grain, tannin from tea bind with non haeme iron and other minerals.

head ache deficiency of iron


Iron deficiency is the inadequate intake of iron in the daily diet. Anemia is a condition of severe iron deficiency that results in the low hemoglobin content in the blood. This reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. The symptoms of iron deficiency are reduced resistance to infection, itching and changes in skin and many behavioral disorders. People exposed to long term iron deficiency are often found to have psychological disturbances. These symptoms include reduced work productivity, wellness, and fatigue, and impaired visual ability and pica. Pica is a curious behavior seen in anemic individuals where there is an excess intake of non food items such as ice, clay and paste.

Repeated blood transfusions, preparation of foods in iron containers and excess intake of iron supplements could result in a condition called iron toxicity. The main symptoms of this condition are fatigue, headache, low work performance, anemia, and enlarged liver, loss of body hair, impotency and so on. Untreated iron toxicity leads to aggravation of diabetes, liver cancer, heart disease and arthritis.


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