Everything you need to know about iron

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Iron health

Iron is an important metal that contributes to the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin, to the normal transport of oxygen in the body, to good cognitive function, to energy production and to reduce fatigue.

Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Without enough iron, there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, which leads to fatigue. It is also a component of myoglobin, a protein that carries and stores oxygen to muscle tissue. Its action is important for the healthy development of the brain in children, as well as for the normal functioning of various cells and hormones.

Iron and food

In food it is found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found only in animal foods such as meat, poultry and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and leafy greens. It is also found in animal foods (as animals consume non-heme iron plant foods) and in fortified foods. It is stored in the body as ferritin in the liver, spleen, muscle tissue and bone marrow and is transported throughout the body through transferrin, a protein in the blood that binds to iron.

Meat, poultry and seafood are the richest in heme-iron. Enriched cereals, nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables contain non-heme iron. In the United States, many breads, cereals, and baby foods are fortified with iron.

Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme. Certain factors can improve or inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. Vitamin C and heme iron taken at the same meal can improve its absorption. Wheat fiber, large amounts of calcium, especially supplements, and plant substances, such as plant acids and tannins, can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. [2]

What are the sources of heme-iron?

  • Oysters & mussels
  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Sardine canned food
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Canned tuna

What are non-heme-iron sources?

  • Enhanced breakfast cerealsBeans
  • Dark chocolate (at least 45% cocoa)
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Potato with peel
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Enriched rice or bread

Lack of iron

Iron deficiency is called anemia, which affects millions of people worldwide each year. It is found in the term Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA), it is a common nutritional deficiency, causing extreme fatigue and a sense of loss of balance. It affects all ages but also women who are pregnant or menstruating, people who have kidney dialysis, including people who are at the highest risk for this condition.

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of concentration
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Hair loss & brittle nails
  • Allergy (Pica): intense craving for non-edible substances

Anemia and high-risk groups

Which groups can develop anemia?

  • Pregnant women – during pregnancy a woman produces much larger amounts of red blood cells for the fetus, increasing the need for additional dietary or complementary iron. IDA during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or low birth weight, so iron is usually included in prenatal testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant women start taking 30 mg of iron supplement daily. [2]
  • Menopausal women – women who experience heavy bleeding during menstruation may develop iron deficiency.
  • Children – infants have high iron needs due to their rapid growth.
  • Older people – older age is associated with a higher risk of malnutrition and chronic inflammatory diseases that can lead to anemia. [1]
  • Vegetarians – those who follow a diet without heme iron: meat, fish and poultry can develop IDA. Because non-heme iron is not well absorbed, more of these foods are required or attention is paid to the way they are combined to improve absorption (eat in combination with foods rich in vitamin C, avoid eating in combination with foods rich in calcium, supplements calcium or tea, coffee).
  • Endurance athletes – intense running can cause mild gastrointestinal bleeding and a condition called “foot-strike” hemolysis dissolves red blood cells at a faster rate. Women endurance athletes also have menstruation at higher risk for IDA. [3]
    People with chronic renal failure during dialysis – the kidneys create a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) that signals the body to make red blood cells. Renal failure reduces the production of EPO and therefore blood cells. In addition, there is some blood loss during dialysis.

At Vita4you.gr you will find Hema-plex iron supplements!


  1. Le CH. The prevalence of anemia and moderate-severe anemia in the US population (NHANES 2003-2012). PLoS One. 2016 Nov 15;11(11):e0166635
  2. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron Fact Sheet for Health Professionals https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 9/2/2019.
  3. Powers JM, Buchanan GR. Disorders of Iron Metabolism: New Diagnostic and Treatment Approaches to Iron Deficiency. Hematology/Oncology Clinics. 2019 Jun 1;33(3):393-408.

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