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June 02, 2019

Why do we need Iron? 

Iron is a trace mineral that plays an important role in our basic life functions and is very essential for our survival. It is one of the most abundant elements on Earth where it became very significant since ancient civilizations until today. This mineral is necessary for basic cellular and tissue functions and is required for the proper functioning of your muscles, brain and red blood cells. 

The trace mineral is not made in the body that's why we need to supply it with the foods that we eat, where only 10 to 30 per cent of the iron we consume is absorbed and used by our body. So, the daily requirement of iron can be achieved by taking dietary supplements. But, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking iron supplements. 

Read and uncover the important things you need to know about iron by reading this article. Discover how it can affect your overall health and help treat anemia and insomnia. 


Origin and History

Iron comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "iren" while the origin of the symbol Fe comes from the Latin word "ferrum" that means iron. The word iron is derived from earlier words that means "holy metal" since it was used to make swords used in the Crusades. 

The first iron that was used by humans is likely to have come from iron meteorites with iron contents of over 90 per cent. Iron has been known since ancient times, where it plays a significant role in the early civilization where people use it in making tools and weapons. 


Fast Facts 

  • The largest use of iron is the manufacture of steel which is an iron-carbon alloy that is necessary for the construction of buildings. 
  • Iron is a chemical element that has the chemical symbol of Fe and an atomic number of 26. 
  • It is the sixth most common element in the universe and can be usually encountered in its pure form. 
  • 70 percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called haemoglobin. 
  • Women are in need of more iron due to their normal menstrual cycle each month. 
  • Ferrous sulphate is the most common type of iron supplement. 
  • About one-quarter of the world's total population is anaemic. 
  • All human cells contain iron, which is mostly found in red blood cells. 


Iron Deficiency 

Without enough iron stored in the body, a person can develop iron deficiency anaemia which is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world, where it affects more than 25% of people across nations, where children, pregnant and postpartum women are severely affected because they require high iron demands. Here are some of the signs and symptoms that you are iron deficient:

-Sensitivity to temperature
-Dizziness and headache
-Fatigue and tiredness
-Pale skin and fingernails
-Shortness of breath
-Muscle weakness
-Loss of stamina
-Poor Appetite
-Chest pain
-Hair Loss


Health Benefits

1. Improves Sleep. Research shows that iron deficiency can lead to sleeping disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome, especially among women. Make sure that you have daily supply of iron from the food you eat or from taking supplements which can help treat insomnia and improve your sleeping habits.

2. Brain Health. Studies show that iron may help build better brain, it may also promote concentration and focus. Deficiency in iron may cause impaired cognitive development, delay normal mental and motor function that includes processing new information, as well as, connecting thoughts and movements.  

3. Reduces Fatigue. Lacking iron decreases your energy levels and it is one of the major cause of fatigue among women. This important mineral also helps in increasing the oxygen that is transported to your organ systems and muscles which effectively reduce fatigue and tiredness. 

4. Boosts Immunity and Energy. It helps the body create energy from nutrients that you get from the food you eat. It is liable for the normal cell division and stronger immune system that reduces your risk of having diseases. Studies show that if you are losing too much iron, you' re more prone to infectious diseases. 

5. Treats Anemia. The low production of haemoglobin and healthy red blood cells is the major cause of anaemia where low oxygen levels reach cells throughout the body. Iron helps supply normal red blood count and essential in the production of haemoglobin which can treat iron deficiency anaemia and prevent it from forming.

6. Muscle Health. Iron can also be found in your muscle cells called myoglobin which helps store and releases oxygen that makes your muscles healthy and properly working. Myoglobin actually provides oxygen when your blood oxygen delivery is inadequate when you are in a condition of intense muscular activity. 

7. Increases Metabolism. Studies show that high iron intake may help increase metabolism and improve appetite. Iron is one of the most essential nutrients that our body needs where it maintains our general well-being and healthy metabolism of our body since it assists in many enzyme and cellular functions. 

8. Women's Health. Reduces premenstrual symptoms and promotes a healthy pregnancy. Moreover, it reduces the risk of prenatal depression among pregnant women and prevents postpartum depression after giving birth. Also, due to blood loss from monthly menstrual cycle, women are at higher risk of being anaemic.

9. Hair Health. Iron deficiency may actually lead to anaemia, which is one of the major reasons for hair loss. When your body can't produce haemoglobin, it affects the proper release of oxygen which is also used for repairing damaged cells in your body that include the cells that promote hair growth. 

10. Heart Health. Iron is significant for the proper functioning of your heart since the oxygen-binding heme protein, myoglobin is also found in your cardiac muscle where it captures oxygen that your muscle cells use for energy. Studies also show that iron deficiency can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems.


Dietary Sources

Iron can be found on both plants and animal food sources. There are two forms of dietary iron, the first one is the non-heme iron which is the plant-based food sources, the other one is the heme iron that comes from animal-based food sources.

However, dairy and eggs are considered non-heme even they are animal byproducts, it is because they contain less to no haemoglobin or myoglobin levels. Also, non-heme iron is less absorbed in the body compared to heme iron food sources. 

Our body absorbs heme iron more easily than the iron found in plants. You also need to have enough supply of vitamin C for it helps your body absorb iron from the food that you eat. Here are some of the best dietary sources of iron:

  • Heme Iron 

- Offal or organ meats (liver, kidney and heart)
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies etc.)
- Shellfish (clams, oysters and mussels)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey)
- Lean red meat

  • Non-heme Iron

- Legumes (beans, lentils, soybeans, peas, edamame)
- Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beets)
- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, figs)
- Seeds, grains and nuts
- Dark chocolate
- Milk and cereals
- Egg yolks
- Tofu


Iron Supplements

Iron supplements are generally recognized as safe and it is an inexpensive way of treating anaemia or iron deficiency. But, always remember that you also need to get enough vitamin C for the proper absorption of iron in your body. It is advised that taking 250 mg of vitamin C together with iron supplements will help you get the benefits you need. The daily intake of iron varies depending on age, gender and your needs.

Iron intake among women requires higher levels due to losses in monthly menstruation. Iron supplements can be in the form of pills, tablets, capsules and liquids. Oral iron supplementation can help treat anemia and effectively increase levels of haemoglobin and iron in your body. You can consult your doctor to choose which type of iron supplement is best for you. 


Dosage and Duration 

Always keep in mind that you should always read the label before using any kinds of products before use. Also, before taking any supplements, you should consult your healthcare professional for medical advice for the right dosage and duration. Here is the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Iron for different ages and gender:






Birth to 6 Months

0.27 mg

0.27 mg



7-12 months

11 mg

11 mg



1 to 3 years

7 mg

7 mg



4 to 8 years

10 mg

10 mg



9 to 13 years

8 mg

8 mg



14 to 18 years

11 mg

15 mg

27 mg

10 mg

19 to 50 years

8 mg

18 mg

27 mg

9 mg

51+ years

8 mg

8 mg




Precautions and Side Effects 

Children and Pregnant Women. Keep out of reach of children. If not properly administered, it can lead to adverse effects and might affect your overall health. Make sure to consult first your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or medications, to know the right dosage for you and prevent an overdose. 

Antacids and Calcium Supplements. There are studies that show antacids and calcium supplements may interact with iron because they may interfere with the absorption of iron in your body. You should take antacids or calcium supplements and iron separately in order for both the medicine and supplement to be effective and beneficial for your health. 

Antibiotics. Studies show that iron may decrease the effectivity of the antibiotic that is prescribed to you such as amoxicillin, quinolone and tetracycline antibiotics. To avoid the interaction between iron supplements and antibiotics, you should take iron several hours before or after taking antibiotics.  

Overdose. Excessive iron consumption can be toxic, therefore, medical advice from a healthcare professional is needed before taking iron supplements. Too much iron in the blood can lead to the accumulation of excess iron in your body tissues which can cause a disorder called hemochromatosis, where if left untreated, it can damage your organs and joints. 

Disclaimer: The vitamin health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. VitaminsOnly strongly recommends to consult health care professionals for any questions concerning your health.


National Institutes of Health
Medical News Today
Natural Food Series
Nutrition Advance
Organic Facts
Dr. Axe

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