Iron

Essential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Iron is required for energy and endurance because it delivers oxygen throughout the body. But it’s necessary only in small amounts for optimal health. Odd then that deficiency of this mineral is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. A protein-rich diet that contains an ample amount of red meats will supply your body with sufficient iron; however, if you don’t eat a diet rich in meat and leafy greens, then supplementing additional iron might be considered and is easily accomplished with a simple high-quality multivitamin/mineral formula.

Other names for Iron

ferrous

Where to find Iron

The highest concentrations are in eggs, fish, liver, red meat, and poultry. Iron is also contained in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and enriched breads and cereals.

Popup: Foods highest in Iron

Daily Value

The Daily Value for Iron is 18 mg.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Iron

Because iron deficiencies are so common and even mild to moderate exercise can cause our bodies to lose greater amounts of this essential mineral, active individuals should consider including greater amounts of iron in their nutrition plans. Whether obtained from a multivitamin/mineral or an iron supplement, iron is vital to delivering oxygen to every cell in our bodies — leading to optimal health and performance.
Ways that Iron can enhance Energy & Endurance:

  • Increase and help support proper oxygen supply throughout the body
  • Improve physical work capacity and productivity of red blood cells

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Iron deficiency

Deficiency of Iron has been linked to:

  • Anemia
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Learning disabilities
  • Impaired immune function
  • Low body temperature
  • Fatigue/Weakness
Potential uses for Iron

Research indicates that Iron may also be useful in the treatment of:

  • Anemia
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Restless leg syndrome

DISCUSSION

More about Iron

Iron is required for energy and endurance because it delivers oxygen throughout the body. But it’s necessary only in small amounts for optimal health. Odd then that deficiency of this mineral is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

Iron-poor blood

The phrase “iron-poor blood,” while common, is understood by few. Iron poor literally means blood that is starved of oxygen. The iron in your body is found mostly in hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to all of our bodies’ tissues and carbon dioxide from those tissues back to the lungs. Without adequate iron, oxygen can’t get to its various destinations, and the option for optimal health is lost.

Deficiency risks

The most common deficiency is among women — in fact, up to 58% of women are deficient, in part due to blood loss during menstruation. But that percentage may be even higher for those who are pregnant.

We absorb only about 8% to 10% of the iron we ingest — another reason for these numbers. Add a bit of caffeine and the all-too-common “junk food” diet to the mix, and absorption is inhibited, increasing the risk of deficiency even further.

Active people, again especially women, are also at greater risks for iron deficiencies. For example, while average men lose about 1 mg per day of iron, endurance-trained males experience a total iron loss of about 1.75 mg per day. A sedentary woman loses about 1.4 mg per day, whereas a female athlete loses about 2.3 mg.

Athletes and those who partake in even mild exercise have an increased turnover of red blood cells during exercise, and as a greater number are needed for oxygen transport, more iron is needed for hemoglobin to function properly. If athletes become deficient in iron, physical and mental performance, along with immune function and body temperature, declines because muscles and other tissues are starved for oxygen.

Types

There are two types of iron out there — heme (found in animal products) and nonheme (found in plants). Heme iron is more easily absorbed, but some vegetarians may choose to supplement with nonheme iron because of its plant origin. If this is the case for you, try taking your nonheme iron with 500 mg of Vitamin C to increase absorption.

The absorption of iron is quite a complex process, and sometimes eating iron-rich foods may not be enough to supply our nutritional needs, due to the type of iron consumed or the combinations of foods we eat — some of which render certain nutrients unabsorbable.

In truth

Similar to the earth’s crust, which is made up of about five percent iron, we don’t need much of this trace mineral. Despite low requirements, deficiencies are all too common — for little reason other than our own lack of attention to the needs of our bodies. As active, health-conscious people, it’s important to make sure our muscles have the oxygen and energy they need to perform at optimal levels.

A protein-rich diet that contains an ample amount of red meats will supply your body with sufficient iron; however, if you don’t eat a diet rich in meat and leafy greens, then supplementing additional iron might be considered and is easily accomplished with a simple high-quality multivitamin/mineral formula.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Between 10 and 18 mg taken daily has been shown to be effective.

Athletes and those at risk for iron depletion may require 20 to 30 mg daily.

Pregnant women often safely increase amounts to 30 mg daily.

Note

Heme (organic) iron in an amino acid chelate form is the most highly recommended because it is most easily absorbed.

Timing

While iron is usually recommended in two divided doses without food, if stomach upset occurs, it can be used three times daily with meals.

Synergists of Iron

When taken with at least 500 mg of Vitamin C, nonheme iron is absorbed more easily.

Safety of Iron

Do not take iron if you have an infection, as bacteria require iron for growth, and extra iron may encourage this.

If you have had blood transfusions, kidney disease, arthritis, intestinal disease, Hodgkin’s disease, or hepatitis, your best bet is to stay away from iron supplementation.

Toxicity of Iron

Iron is very safe at recommended levels. Too much iron, however, may increase free-radical production and the need for Vitamin E. Overdose may cause diarrhea or vomiting with blood, abdominal pain, chest pain, and chills.

Extremely high levels of iron have been associated with heart disease and cancer.

Iron supplements should be kept away from children, as levels as low as three grams can be toxic.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Dallongeville, J., et al., “Iron Deficiency Among Active Men,” J Am Coll Nutr 8.3 (1989) : 195-202.
  • Escanero, J.F., et al., “Iron Stores in Professional Athletes Throughout the Sports Season,” Physiol Behav 62.4 (1997) : 811-4.
  • Haymes, E.M., and Lamanca, J.J., “Iron Loss in Runners During Exercise. Implications and Recommendations,” Sports Med 7.5 (1989) : 277-85.
  • Klingshirn, L.A., et al., “Effect of Iron Supplementation on Endurance Capacity in Iron-Depleted Female Runners,” Med Sci Sports Exerc 24.7 (1992) : 819-24.
  • Konig, D., et al., “Zinc, Iron, and Magnesium Status in Athletes-Influence on the Regulation of Exercise-Induced Stress and Immune Function,” Exerc Immunol Rev 4 (1998) : 2-21.
  • Magazanik, A., et al., “Effect of an Iron Supplement on Body Iron Status and Aerobic Capacity of Young Training Women,” Eur J Appl Physiol 62.5 (1991) : 317-23.
  • Naimark, B.J., et al., “Serum Ferritin and Heart Disease: The Effect of Moderate Exercise on Stored Iron Levels in Postmenopausal Women,” Can J Cardiol 12.12 (1996) : 1253-7.
  • Waller, M.F., and Haymes, E.M., “The Effects of Heat and Exercise on Sweat Iron Loss,” Med Sci Sports Exerc 28.2 (1996) : 197-203.
  • Weaver, C.M., and Rajaram, S., “Exercise and Iron Status,” J Nutr 122.3S (1992) : 782-7.