Friday, April 16, 2010

Facts About Iron

Let’s see the facts about iron. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, myoglobin and many enzymes within the body. Hemoglobin is the protein on red blood cells that is responsible for oxygen transport. Its partner myoglobin is a protein found in muscle tissue. Iron has an integral role in brain development and it is absolutely critical in the first two years of life. It is vital in the production of the protective membrane in the central nervous system. It is also involved in the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells.

Breast milk has very biologically available iron, but cow’s milk is devoid of iron. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended to breast-feed newborns up for the first year of life.

Iron is a structural part of many enzymes that have a multitude of functions. It also helps in the detoxification of your liver. Detox diets are popular today, but keep in mind that your liver does an amazing job, just make sure you have adequate amounts of iron in your diet and you’ll be fine.

It is also essential in the maintenance and functioning of the immune system. Bacteria also require iron for growth, however. If you’re taking lots of supplemental iron that has not been prescribed by your physician, bacteria can grow more easily. It is for that reason that many nutrition-support products, like things given intravenously in the hospital, are iron-free.

More Facts About Iron: Bioavailability

On average, only about 10% of the dietary iron that you consume is absorbed by the body. In general, women absorb 13% of iron and men about 6%. Why does that happen? The amount of iron that is absorbed depends on what is needed. Absorption can range from 1% to 50% depending on your state of deficiency. Absorption is more effective during times of deficiency. If you are deficient your body actually ramps up the absorption.

Dietary iron comes in two distinct forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron is found mainly in animal products and is absorbed much more effectively than nonheme irons, which is found in grains and plants. If you’re vegetarian your absorption of iron might be compromised.

Is there anything you could do to increase the absorption of iron? Your grandmother probably had the best answer: cooking with a black iron skillet can be a valuable source of contaminant iron. It can increase the iron content of a meal from anywhere between 30% to 100%.

There are other things in the diet that can influence the amount of iron you absorb. Calcium, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus can also reduce the absorption of iron. Tannic acids is found in coffee and tea, and it also decreases absorption, so much that if you drink coffee or tea around an hour before or after a meal, you can reduce your absorption by as much as 40%.

More Facts About Iron: Deficiency and Toxicity

Deficiencies can be caused by chronic bleeding or malabsorption. Children, pregnant or menstruating women and repeat blood donors are at most risk for iron deficiency. One in ten pre-menopausal women in the United States has deficiency of this mineral. The symptoms of deficiency include short attention span (mostly in children). In adults in can manifest as extreme fatigue or poor immune system functioning. Other biological markers are pale inner eyelids and behavioral changes. Eventually, deficiency is going to impair red blood cell synthesis and the result is iron deficiency anemia.

Can you have an excess of iron? Yes. Iron toxicity due to the overconsumption of dietary iron is not common, especially since nonheme iron absorption decreases as you eat more of it. The excess iron acts as an oxidant, and it can have very negative health implications. Irons poisoning is common when children eat vitamins like candy. Treat your supplements like drugs. Iron overdose from supplements is one of the leading causes of poisoning under the age of 6.

Iron supplementation in those with normal stores can actually increase DNA damage, and this in turn increases the risk of cancer. Individuals who eat large amounts of calories are also at risk of iron overload. This is so because it is hard to find foods that are not fortified with iron.

People who received repeated blood transfusions and alcoholics are at high risk of having iron poisoning. Large amounts of alcohol can actually increase the uptake of iron.

The upper limit of iron intake is 45 milligrams per day for adults. For teens and children is 40 milligrams. If you have a deficiency, your physician may prescribe higher doses than that.

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