What is iron? Iron is an essential mineral present mainly in the blood. Foods rich in iron include animal based foods like liver, meats, eggs and poultry. Vegetable greens, whole grains and breads and cereals are also good foods with iron. For this reason, vegans and vegetarians are prone to iron deficiency. Iron supplements, iron pills and iron tablets may also be used for supplementation.
Iron deficiency may be due to insufficient iron intake in the diet or because of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) or vitamin B12 deficiency. The lack of iron may also be caused by excessive bleeding during menstruation in females, poor digestion, antacid use and too much intake of coffee and tea. Iron deficiency leads to brittle hair, bones prone to breakage, inflammation, digestive upset and many others.
The main function of iron is in the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin in red blood cells (RBCs). Hemoglobin is needed to facilitate oxygenation of the RBCs. Iron also plays a critical role in the production of enzymes like catalase, crucial for proper growth and development. Additionally, the mineral boosts a strong, healthy immune system, as well as increased energy production.
Absorption of iron is stimulated by adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach. The minerals copper, manganese, molybdenum, plus vitamins A and B complex also promote better iron absorption. On the other hand, zinc and vitamin E may interfere with its proper absorption.
Too much iron intake may also pose health risks since iron is readily stored in the body. This may lead to free radical formation, which can be offset by vitamin E intake. Excessive iron can also complicate heart problems.
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