Iron in the Body: Why Your Body Needs it to Function Properly


Iron is one of the most important nutrients that our body needs to function properly. It plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including the production of red blood cells, the transportation of oxygen throughout the body, and the regulation of cell growth and differentiation. Despite its importance, many people do not consume enough iron-rich foods or take supplements to meet their daily needs. In this article, we will discuss the importance of iron in the body, how it works, and why it is essential to get the recommended daily intake.

The Importance of Iron in the Body

Iron is an essential mineral that our body needs to function correctly. It is a crucial component of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron also helps our body produce myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles and supports healthy immune function.

How Iron Works in the Body

Iron is absorbed in the small intestine and then transported throughout the body by transferrin, a protein that binds to iron and carries it to the bone marrow where red blood cells are produced. Once the red blood cells are produced, the iron in them is recycled and used again.

Iron Deficiency and Anemia

Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency that can lead to anemia, a condition where there are not enough red blood cells in the body to carry oxygen to the tissues. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Iron deficiency anemia is more prevalent in women than men, and it is especially common in pregnant women, young children, and people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Sources of Iron

Iron can be found in both plant and animal-based foods. Animal sources of iron include red meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish. Plant-based sources of iron include legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale.

Recommended Daily Intake of Iron

The recommended daily intake of iron varies depending on age, gender, and other factors such as pregnancy and lactation. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following daily intake of iron:

  • Infants and children: 7-15 mg/day
  • Men: 8 mg/day
  • Women: 18 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 27 mg/day
  • Lactating women: 9-10 mg/day

Iron Supplements

Iron supplements may be necessary for people who cannot meet their daily iron needs through diet alone, such as those with iron deficiency anemia or pregnant women. However, taking too much iron can be harmful and cause side effects such as constipation, nausea, and vomiting. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider before starting an iron supplement to determine if it is necessary and the appropriate dose.

Iron Absorption

Iron absorption can be enhanced or inhibited by certain foods and nutrients. For example, vitamin C enhances iron absorption, while calcium, tannins, and phytates can inhibit iron absorption. It is important to balance your intake of these nutrients to ensure optimal iron absorption.

Iron and Exercise

Iron is essential for muscle function and energy production, making it critical for athletes and people who exercise regularly. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, and decreased athletic performance. It is essential to ensure that you are meeting your daily iron needs to support your body during exercise.


Q1. What are some symptoms of iron deficiency?

A1. Symptoms of iron deficiency may include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, cold hands and feet, and pale skin.

Q2. Can iron deficiency be harmful?

A2. Yes, iron deficiency can be harmful, especially if left untreated. Severe iron deficiency anemia can cause heart problems, delayed growth and development in children, and complications during pregnancy.

Q3. Who is at risk for iron deficiency?

A3. Women, especially pregnant and menstruating women, are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to blood loss during menstruation and pregnancy. Infants, children, and vegetarians or vegans are also at risk.

Q4. How can I increase my iron intake?

A4. You can increase your iron intake by consuming more iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. Iron supplements may also be necessary for some people.

Q5. Can I get too much iron?

A5. Yes, it is possible to get too much iron, which can cause iron toxicity. Symptoms of iron toxicity may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and organ damage. It is essential to talk to a healthcare provider before starting an iron supplement to determine if it is necessary and the appropriate dose.

Q6. How can I maximize my iron absorption?

A6. You can maximize your iron absorption by consuming vitamin C-rich foods along with iron-rich foods, avoiding consuming calcium-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods, and avoiding consuming tea or coffee with meals as they contain tannins that can inhibit iron absorption.

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