Iron is an important mineral required for maintaining good health. In normal man about two thirds of iron is in the red blood cells. The rest of it is found in liver, spleen and in the bone marrow. In minute quantity it is also found in muscles as myoglobin and in blood serum. 4 atoms of iron are there in each molecule of hemoglobin.
Iron is required for formation of hemoglobin in the red blood cells which transport oxygen around our body. As oxygen is needed by every cell for energy production, iron can be considered as the backbone for production of energy.
The normal body of an adult contains about 4 to 5 gm of iron. Iron is absorbed from the small intestine and stomach. The storage of iron is derived from two major sources, namely through diet and destruction of red blood cells. As iron is recycled in the body, the major factor affecting iron requirement is the amount of iron lost from the body.
Normally a small amount of iron is lost from the bile, urine, skin, stools and sweat. Women in child bearing age, pregnancy, lactation, growth spurts in adolescent boys and girls have increased iron demand. Depletion of iron in body leads to iron deficiency anemia.
The best source of iron is animal food. Meat, liver, eggs, fish, wholegrain cereals, pulses, legumes and green leafy vegetables contain enough amount of iron required by the body. However iron from animal sources is better absorbed than iron from plant sources. Phytate in cereal and pulses, vegetable fibers, tannin in tea and coffee and calcium reduce iron absorption. Vitamin C present in foods aids absorption of iron.
Signs And Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency develops gradually. It results when the intake of iron from the food is less, or there is trouble in absorption of iron or there is loss of blood from any viscera. Malnutrition, women having heavy menstrual bleeding, intestinal worms, kidney failure, pregnancy, lactation, perforation of internal organs, incomplete abortion are few triggering factors for iron deficiency.
Following are the symptoms of iron deficiency.
- A person having iron deficiency may feel extremely tired after doing simple house hold work. He also feels dizzy and breathless. His palms and feet become cold. Pale skin, tongue and conjunctiva are other prominent symptoms of iron deficiency.
- In iron deficiency the nails become brittle; the tongue feels swollen and sore.
- Recurrent infections are common in a person suffering from iron deficiency.
- There is unusual craving for mud, paint, ice etc. The condition is called pica.
- In extreme iron deficiency, patient may have hair loss and pain in throat while gulping the food.
- Iron deficiency can lead to impaired learning, lack of concentration, irritability and depression.
- Restless leg syndrome is often present with iron deficiency anemia. In this disorder patient has strange feeling in his legs especially at night which keeps him awake.
Benefits & Functions Of Iron In The Body
Iron when present in required amount in the body has several benefits:
- Hemoglobin: Iron is required to form hemoglobin. It is a type of protein which transports oxygen to each and every cell of the body.
- Immune system: Iron plays a vital role in maintaining healthy immune system. A person having strong immune system has less chances of suffering from recurrent infections.
- Enzymes: Iron is an important ingredient of various enzymes. It also plays an important role in various enzymatic activities.
- Concentration: Adequate amount of iron helps the person to concentrate in his work. He is less irritated and depressed as compared to those who have depleted iron concentration in their body.
- Fatigue and tiredness: Person feels less tired and fatigued even after hard work when he has enough iron in his blood. This is because every cell in the body gets adequate oxygen supply.