How Iron Affects Well-Being and Health

Iron is an essential micronutrient that is involved in the work of many enzymes and is part of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. In addition, iron affects the appetite, and well-being of a person, as well as the condition of his skin, hair, and nails. The body cannot produce iron on its own, so it is important to get it from food or supplements. In this material, we will understand how iron deficiency manifests itself, how much iron the body needs in different periods, and what foods will help get iron.

How Iron Affects Well-Being and Health

What happens when there is too little iron?

Symptoms of iron deficiency can be confused with fatigue or the effects of stress, so many people are unaware of the cause of their condition. With an iron deficiency, a person may notice the following symptoms:

  • Weakness, fatigue;
  • Dizziness;
  • Dyspnea;
  • Heart palpitations;
  • The fragility of nails and hair;
  • Paleness of the skin.

The cause of this feeling may be blood loss (for example, after a blood donation or menstruation), an unbalanced diet, or the body's inability to absorb enough iron from food. Iron deficiency can eventually lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow cannot produce enough red blood cells due to iron deficiency. With anemia, the symptoms of iron deficiency increase and impair a person's quality of life.

What happens when there is too much iron?

Excess iron can also harm the body. Taking too much iron supplementation causes poisoning: symptoms include abdominal pain, dizziness, and nausea.

Very high doses of iron can be fatal, especially when taken by children, so it is important to keep iron supplements out of the reach of children.

In addition, excess iron can promote tumor growth in the presence of cancer and increase oxidative stress, which underlies most pathological processes in the human body.

How are genetics and iron related?

Sometimes heredity can affect iron levels. Hemochromatosis is a genetic disease in which, due to a breakdown in one gene, the body absorbs much more iron. The trace element accumulates in the liver, heart, and pancreas, which can subsequently damage these organs. However, while many people with hemochromatosis do not show symptoms for their entire lives, others develop symptoms such as joint pain, abdominal pain, and weakness in their 30s and 40s. Treatment consists of prescribing drugs to help remove iron and bloodletting.

Studies show that the TMPRSS6, HFE, and TFR2 genes are associated with iron levels. The TMPRSS6 and HFE genes, for example, help control levels of hepcidin, a protein that balances iron in the body. If the level of iron in the blood becomes low, this protein is produced more slowly, and the person absorbs more iron from food. And another gene - TFR2 - helps to activate hepcidin and is sometimes involved in the uptake of iron by cells.

The Atlas genetic test helps to determine the carrier status of hemochromatosis and the likelihood of transmission of the disease to the next generations. In addition to genetic diseases, the test will also determine how your genotype affects iron absorption.

Iron for children and pregnant women

During pregnancy, the volume of blood in a woman's body increases. This allows you to provide the fetus with oxygen and essential nutrients. The amount of iron at the same time remains the same, and it becomes insufficient. It is important for pregnant women to get more iron than usual to avoid iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency can lead to preterm labor, low birth weight, and postpartum depression. With anemia, a woman feels constant drowsiness and fatigue due to a lack of oxygen, but after childbirth, few people pay attention to this, because caring for a baby also causes a lack of sleep and a breakdown.

Iron deficiency anemia: who is at risk and how to prevent the disease?

In childhood, the body grows actively and also needs more iron than in adulthood. Children at risk for developing iron deficiency include:

  • Were born prematurely or had a low birth weight;
  • Drink cow's or goat's milk before the age of 1 year and consume more than 700 ml of milk at toddler age. Cow's milk has been linked to the risk of iron deficiency anemia because, when consumed in excess, it interferes with the absorption of iron.
  • Not receiving complementary iron after 6 months;
  • Get a mixture that is not enriched with iron;
  • Have a chronic disease or follow a strict diet;
  • Not eating enough iron-rich foods
  • Are overweight or obese?

How much iron does my body need and how do I know if I'm getting enough iron?

Here you can rely on the recommended rate of iron. It depends on age, gender, and health status. The iron requirement for infants 4-6 months old is 7 mg, and for from 1 year to 7 years old - 10 mg. During puberty from 14 to 18 years old, girls need 18 mg of iron per day, and men need 15 mg.

Women shed blood every month during their menstrual cycle, so between the ages of 19 and 50, they need 18 mg of iron daily, while men of the same age can get by with just 10 mg.

During pregnancy, a woman needs to receive 15 mg of iron per day. To get that much iron from food, you can eat 110 grams of chicken liver (12.8 mg), 200 grams of stewed spinach (2 mg), 100 grams of boiled lentils (3.3 mg), and ¾ chocolate bars with a high cocoa content (9 mg).

A person may need more iron if they have kidney failure, an ulcer, or a gastrointestinal disorder that can prevent the body from absorbing iron. Also, more iron should be consumed by people who do a lot of sports and vegetarians. Athletes need more iron due to the fact that intense training can destroy red blood cells, and vegetarians do because iron from plant foods is less absorbed. To get the daily iron requirement for a vegetarian male, it is enough to have an omelet (0.74 mg) with broccoli (1.59 mg) for breakfast and eat 100 grams of tofu (4.9 mg) with buckwheat (0.8 mg) for lunch or dinner, supplementing meals with tomato or orange juice for better absorption.

What foods are high in iron?

There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is better absorbed and can be found in meat, fish, and seafood. Non-heme iron is less bioavailable to the body and is found in nuts, vegetables, and grain products. It is best absorbed when consumed with meat, fish, or seafood.

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