What is the most abundant mineral on Earth that is also responsible for the proper nourishment and function of all the body's major organs and functions?
The answer is iron, and here's what you should know about it.
What Is Iron?
First of all, iron is a mineral. Iron isn't produced on its own within the body, so we must get it from food sources on a daily basis to remain healthy. Red meats, poultry and fish are rich sources of iron, if you consume meat. You can also get iron from lentils, beans and spinach. There are also a variety of iron-fortified foods on the market, like oatmeal.
What Does Iron Do?
Iron is needed by several proteins and enzymes within the body to assist in different functions. Among iron's most important functions is its bonding with a protein to form hemoglobin within the lungs, which helps the blood carry oxygen throughout the body to all major organs and muscles. Without oxygen, the cells of the body, including those in the brain, would begin to weaken and even die.
Iron is also needed for proper growth and differentiation of the cells, including blood cells and supports the immune system, which helps the body fight of disease. It can be stored within the body for future use, which is why making sure to get the proper amount is critical.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
It's important to know the correct amount of iron to ingest on a daily basis for your age, gender and life stage. Consuming too much iron can result in iron poisoning, because iron builds up in the body. Symptoms of iron poisoning include a bluish tint to the lips and fingertips, dark or bloody stool and headache. Consuming too little iron can lead iron deficiency anemia, which has symptoms like chronic fatigue, headache, dizziness and always feeling cold. Women who are menstruating or pregnant, those with restricted diets and anyone who has experienced blood loss from a surgery or major injury is at risk for iron deficiency anemia.
Here are the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for iron, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements:
Zero to six months: 0.27 mg/day (males and females)
Seven to 12 months: 11 mg/day (males and females)
One to three years: 7 mg/day (males and females)
Four to eight years: 10 mg/day (males and females)
Nine to 13 years: 8 mg/day (males and females)
14 to 19 years: 11 mg/day (males), 15 mg/day (females), 27 mg/day (pregnant females) and 10 mg/day (lactating females)
19 to 50 years: 8 mg/day (males), 18 mg/day (females), 27 mg/day (pregnant females) and 9 mg/day (lactating females)
51 years and older: 8 mg/day (males and females)
Since the amount of iron needed changes throughout life, iron supplements should only be taken with the recommendation of your physician. The average multivitamin provides 18 mg of iron. This is especially important if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or being treated for a medical condition. You can find them in a variety of strengths and even in combination with other ingredients, like vitamin C.
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