Iron is an essential mineral, with several important roles in the body. It is an important component of many enzymes.
• it helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. (bone marrow)
• by muscle cells for myoglobin synthesis
• synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters
• immune function
A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Which leads to tiredness, shortness of breath, not great for those trying to keep fit!
Good sources of iron
• Organ meats for example liver (Do not eat if you are pregnant)
• Meat all types
• dried fruit – such as dried apricots
• wholegrains – such as brown rice
• fortified breakfast cereals
• soybean flour
• most dark-green leafy vegetables – such as watercress and curly kale
How much iron do I need?
The total amount of iron a normally healthy person needs daily is
• 8.7mg a day for men
• 14.8mg a day for women on average, you may need more if you lose a lot of blood on your period each month, consult your doctor if this is the case.
What do I need to absorb Iron into the body?
Vitamin C found in citrus fruits, peppers and green vegetables, it is particularly important if you are vegetarian or vegan to make sure you have enough Vitamin C in your diet. Vitamin C is also destroyed by Alcohol and cooking.
Vitamin A found in fruit, vegetables, (carotenes) dairy and eggs.
What inhibits Iron absorption?
• Polyphenols in tea, coffee and nuts
• Phytates in wholegrains.
• Oxalic acid in tea, chocolate and spinach
• Zinc (competes with Iron)
What does deficiency look like?
The most common symptoms include:
• tiredness and lethargy (lack of energy)
• shortness of breath
• heart palpitations (noticeable heartbeats)
• a pale complexion
Less common symptoms include:
• tinnitus (commonly ringing in the ears)
• an altered sense of taste
• feeling itchy
• a sore or abnormally smooth tongue
• hair loss
• a desire to eat non-food items, such as ice, paper or clay (a condition known as pica)
• difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
• painful ulcers (open sores) on the corners of your mouth
What happens if I take too much iron?
The side effects of taking high doses (over 20mg) of iron include:
• stomach pain
Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children, so always keep iron supplements out of reach.
Once Iron has been absorbed into the body, there is no means of eliminating a surplus that does not require medical intervention.
What does the Department of Health advise?
Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take iron supplements, don’t take too much, because this could be harmful. It is only in very rare conditions that an excess of iron comes from a normal healthy diet.
Taking 17mg or less a day of iron supplements is unlikely to cause any harm. However, continue taking a higher dose if advised to by your GP.
NHS site iron and anaemia
Report 41 Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the UK
Human Nutrition a health perspective second edition Mary E Barasi