Iron is one of the most important metals the body needs to function. While most people know about its role in blood, few know that it’s involved in the body’s essential energy production process and plays a role in defending the body from infection. While there are many sources of iron, deficiency is a common problem.
Why does my body need iron?
Iron is an exceptionally flexible element when it comes to helping chemical reactions take place. Several of the reactions used to generate ATP, the body’s most useful form of energy, use enzymes that need iron. While iron can sometimes generate harmful free radicals as a side product of these reactions, the body has harnessed that process to kill invaders. Iron is most commonly known for the role it plays in carrying oxygen around the body. It’s used to build a complex molecule called hemoglobin that picks up oxygen in the lungs and carries it for use in the rest of the body.
What foods contain iron?
Iron is best absorbed from animal sources. Meat, poultry and fish all contain iron contained in hemoglobin. Iron from plant sources isn’t absorbed as well, but can still provide enough iron. Aside from animal sources, plant sources of iron include spinach, nuts, beans and peas, tofu and Swiss chard. Many foods are also now enriched with iron, including breads and breakfast cereals.
What happens when I don’t get enough iron?
New blood cells are being made on a constant basis, which means the blood requires a significant amount of iron. When iron levels start to drop, this can affect the body’s ability to make new blood cells and its subsequent ability to transport oxygen. This leads to a condition called anemia that often causes feelings of fatigue, trouble concentrating and headaches.
Who’s most at risk for deficiency?
Young women of child-bearing age are at highest risk of iron deficiency. Because their bodies have to make new red blood cells at a higher rate, they use up iron much more rapidly than other groups of people. Infants, especially those that were premature, are also at risk for iron deficiency if their breast milk or formula doesn’t contain enough.