Iron is a mineral that the human body requires to produce red blood cells. It is very essential to nearly all known living beings. Within the living cell, iron is stored in the center of metalloproteins since ‘free’ iron that binds non-specifically to any cellular components can catalyze the production of the free radicals, toxic substances for the body.
In any case, when the body is not supplied with sufficient amount of iron then body is unable to produce the number of normal red blood cells, result of that the body loses its healthy state. This kind of shortage is called as iron deficiency (iron shortage) or popularly, iron deficiency anemia. In animals, plants and even in fungi, the iron is often incorporated into the ‘heme’ complex, a complex that mediates redox reactions and contains important substances such as hemoglobin (that carries oxygen), myoglobin and leghemoglobin.
Although many health conscious people across the world get enough from their normal diet but some take additional amounts to meet their needs. Fortunately, iron can be supplied from outside into the body in the form of pills, injections and syrups. The body requires iron to function properly but there are some cases where the body requires more iron. Such conditions include bleeding problems, burns, hemodialysis, stomach removal, intestinal disease, pregnancy, childhood etc. Iron is just like a metal iron that provides ‘solid state’ to the body in the form of immunity and our body gets power to work and to resist it against various microorganisms.
Iron is available in the diet in two forms; heme iron that can be well absorbed and nonheme iron that is poorly absorbed. The best source for the iron (heme iron) in diet is lean red meat. Chicken, turkey and fish can also be consumed as they too are good sources of iron. In vegetarian foods, cereals, beans and some vegetables contain nonheme (poorly absorbed) iron. Foods that are rich in Vitamin C such as citrus fruit and fresh vegetables can increase the amount of nonheme iron absorbed from beans, cereals and vegetables if eaten with small amounts of heme-iron containing foods. However, some of the foods such as eggs, spinach, and milk can decrease the amount of nonheme iron absorbed from the food we eat. Scientifically, one can get some additional iron that can be gained by cooking foods in iron pots or utensils.
Here, one thing is to be noted that the RDA and RNI expresses iron as an ‘elemental’ iron that is an actual amount of iron. The requirement of iron differs from age to age; for instance, infants and children under 3 years of age require about 6mg a day, up to 10 years require about 10mg and adult females may require 15mg on an average. Females require more iron since they are losing blood regularly as menstrual cycle. If the woman is pregnant, she requires double iron and breastfeeding mothers require about 15mg a day.
The side effects of iron include diarrhea or constipation, headache, metallic taste, nausea or vomiting, skin rash etc. Some people may experience abdominal pain or cramp. However, before adopting any supplement, it is always advisable to consult physician.