Your Body Needs Iron


  • Iron is a mineral needed by your body.
  • Iron is present in all your cells.
  • Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin (Hb).
  • Iron is a carrier of oxygen to the tissues from your lungs in the form of hemoglobin.
  • Iron helps your muscles store and use oxygen.
  • Iron is a transport medium for electrons within your cells in the form of cytochromes.
  • Iron is an integral part of enzyme reactions in various tissues. Enzymes help your body digest food and also helps with many other important reactions that occur within your body.

Too little iron (called iron deficiency) in your body can interfere with these vital functions and lead to morbidity and mortality. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States. Those at greater risk for low iron levels include:

  • Females and Iron – teenage girls and women who:
    • are at childbearing age
    • have heavy bleeding during their period
    • have had more than one child
    • use an intrauterine device (IUD)
    • engage in regular, intense exercise (female athletes)
    • are pregnant – about half of pregnant women have iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Older infants and toddlers – mainly those who drink a lot of milk or are having a growth spurt.

These groups of people should be screened at times for iron deficiency by their doctor.

Daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for Iron (mg = milligrams)
7 to 12 months – 11 mg
1 to 3 years – 7 mg
4 to 8 years – 10 mg
9 to 51+ years – 8 mg

14 to 18 years – Males – 11 mg
14 to 18 years – Females – 15 mg
14 to 50 years – Pregnancy – 27 mg
14 to 18 years – Lactation – 10 mg

19 to 50 years – Females – 18 mg
19 to 50 years – Lactation – 9 mg

Most people get enough iron by eating a healthy, balanced diet, and eating iron-rich foods. Your body can absorb iron from meats more easily than from vegetables or other foods.

Some Food Sources of Iron: (Other foods may contain iron)
Clams, canned, drained 3 ounces – 23.8 mg
Chicken liver, cooked, 3 and 1/2 ounces 12.8 mg
Ready-to-eat cereal, 100 percent iron fortified, 3/4 cup 18 mg
Oysters, eastern, wild, cooked, moist heat 3 ounces – 10.2 mg
Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water, 1 cup – 10 mg
Soybeans, mature, boiled, 1 cup – 8.8 mg
Lentils, boiled, 1 cup 6.6 mg
Beans, kidney, mature, boiled, 1 cup 5.2 mg
Beans, lima, large, mature, boiled, 1 cup 4.5 mg

Iron can be given as a mineral supplement. It’s usually combined with multivitamins and other minerals that help your body absorb iron. You should not take additional iron supplements unless it is advised by your doctor.

Side Effects of Too Much Iron
Some side effects of too much iron in the body from foods, and other sources such as vitamins containing iron, include:

  • Constipation.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dark colored stools.
  • Abdominal distress, especially when supplements are taken on an empty stomach.

Some evidence suggests that iron can stimulate the activity of free radicals. Free radicals are natural by-products of oxygen metabolism that are associated with chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Free radicals may inflame and damage coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. This inflammation may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by partial or complete blockage of one or more coronary arteries. Other researchers suggest that iron may contribute to the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, changing it to a form that is more damaging to coronary arteries.

Excess amounts of iron – called iron overload – can result in toxicity and even death.

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