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Iron Overview

Iron is an important trace mineral in the body required for red blood cell production and formation of hemoglobin, (the protein that carries oxygen in the blood) and myoglobin, (a similar protein that carries oxygen in the muscle tissue), and many enzymes. Iron also plays a central role in many vital biochemical pathways and enzyme systems including: energy metabolism, neurotransmitter production (serotonin and dopamine), collagen formation and immune system function. The research claims for iron include increased oxygen transport; enhanced exercise capacity; stimulates immune system; increased energy levels; neurotransmitter synthesis; collagen synthesis.

Iron deficiency, depending on the severity, may lead to anemia. It is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Inadequate dietary intake and blood loss are the most common reasons for iron deficiency.

Unquestionably, there are benefits of iron supplementation in those individuals with iron deficiency. The debate arises whether or not iron supplements are beneficial in people without frank anemia. Endurance athletes may be at risk of becoming iron deficient due to an imbalance between absorption of dietary iron and exercise-induced iron loss. But, the majority of men, but not women, appear to achieve the recommended dietary intake of iron (10 to 15 mg/day). Menstruating women are the highest risk group for mild iron deficiency. Only about 20% of American women consume the daily recommendation for iron (about 65% of men get enough).

Dietary Sources: Liver and other organ meats, red meat like beef, beans and peas. The form of iron found in meats is called heme iron, and is much more bioavailable (absorbable) than the type of iron (non-heme) found in plants. Non-heme iron, found in beans, peas, and non-animal sources, which accounts for more than 85% of iron in the average diet is not absorbed as well as heme iron. Absorption of non-heme iron is increased when consumed with animal protein and vitamin C.

Dosage: The RDA for iron is 10-15 mg per day.

Side Effects: Excess iron is toxic, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and intestinal damage. Iron overload occurs from excess intake, repeated blood transfusions, or chronic alcoholism. Iron overload disease (hemochromatosis) is a potentially fatal but treatable hereditary disorder in which too much iron is absorbed; it affects over 1 million Americans.


Research Overview

Iron research shows the following:
1. May improve symptoms of unexplained fatigue in non-anemic women
2. Prevents and treats anemia
3. May improve immune function
4. May improve aerobic exercise capacity
5. May inhibit growth of cancer cells
6. May increase intellectual performance in children
7. Restores hemoglobin levels following surgery
8. Is the most common deficiency in children in developing countries
9. Is an adjunctive therapy in malaria treatment
10. Prevents reduction in psychomotor development in children
11. Iron deficiency causes heart hypertrophy in chicks

Iron Abstracts (197)

Iron Citations (199)