Iron is an necessary mineral, found within every cell in the body. It is used to make energy and plays a key role in DNA synthesis. Iron is found in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. The hemoglobin is a protein that holds oxygen and carries it from the lungs to cells of the whole body for different functions. If iron is low it reduces the amount of red blood cells that carry oxygen, causing the body to be fatigued.
The kidneys have the ability to increase the production of red blood cells in the marrow through the hormone, erythropoietin. From the kidneys, erythropoietin moves along to the bone marrow, where it produces the red blood cells. Oxygen is so critical to be delivered to the tissues and iron is necessary for that transport.
If there is a lack of oxygen (hypoxia), the kidneys increase the manufacturing of erythropoietin, which in turn helps to produce more red blood cells. As one would expect, low iron levels causes more problems when oxygen levels are low.
How is vitamin C a great friend of iron? Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of iron in the body!
Who needs iron?
Women and men both consume iron from food. Men require around 8 mg of iron daily and women need approximately 18 mg. If a woman is pregnant she needs iron for the baby also, so the requirement increases to around 27 mg a day. Because of women’s menstrual cycle, they need more iron than men. Children need iron due to their growth, but also iron has demonstrated to be important for cognitive function. It has been observed that older adults do not have the best diets and certain health conditions may lead to anemia. Although one should be aware that too much iron can be harmful to the body.
Low iron levels can cause tiredness, weakness, dizziness, strange cravings to eat particular foods without health promoting nutrients, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, etc. Although, if one experiences these types of problems it could be some other health issue. Therefore, they should seek their medical practitioner for assistance.
Forms of iron
There are 2 forms of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from meat, poultry and seafood. The nonheme iron is found in plant sources such as iron and iron-fortified foods.
When a person has a blood test and the doctor tells them that they are iron deficient the objective is to add foods into the diet not only that have iron, but foods and compounds that increase iron absorption.
Good food sources of iron are red meat, turkey, shellfish, dried apricots, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, Quinoa, lima beans, red kidney beans, or chickpeas.
Did you know?
Low iron levels in the body may cause some cognitive problems. These problems can occur at anytime in one’s life, young or old. Some research suggests that the hemoglobin levels are associated with cognitive performance, although it has been shown that supplementing with iron or foods that help iron to get absorbed help to support cognitive function.
Early research has demonstrated the importance of iron for cognitive functions. According to one journal article, cognitive functions that are affected include attention span, intelligence and sensory perception. In addition, emotions and behavior are influenced by low iron levels.
What increases iron absorption?
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, which occurs naturally in citrus fruits and vegetables and also found in dietary supplements has been to enhance iron absorption. It grabs the non-heme iron and is able to store it in an easier form to be absorbed.
Foods with a good source of vitamin C are citrus fruits, strawberries, dark green leafy vegetables and bell peppers. Super fruits such as Acai berry, Camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) and Acerola provide a rich source of ascorbic acid.
Another compound is Amla, which is also called Indian gooseberry, is a fruit popular in Asia and India. It has been traditionally used for health, but known to be a good source of vitamin C and iron.
Baobab is a tree which is found in Australia, Africa, Arabia and Madagascar. The pulp and leaves of the tree contain good sources of vitamin C, iron and other nutrients. It has been used in cooking, but has been shown to have health benefits.
Nopal is a cactus that is grown in Mexico and used in the daily diet. It is known to be a good source of iron among other nutrients.
Fennel is a round type bulb vegetable that comes from the Mediterranean and has been used for cooking and medicinal purposes for centuries. It is sliced and added into a variety of Italian recipes. It provides a good source of iron.
It is interesting to note that vitamin B6 is required to make red blood cells and necessary for iron to be converted into hemoglobin. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may improve the absorption of zinc and iron, which increases their transport to be used at the cell level.
Also it is important to note, if one has abnormally high body iron levels, they would want to do the opposite to reduce the amount of iron absorbed. It is important to check in with the doctor if one has a problem such as this.
In summary, iron is a necessary mineral, which is found in every cell in the body. It is used to make energy and involved in DNA synthesis. It is located in the hemoglobin of red blood cells and used to send oxygen to the tissues to make energy. Vitamin C is a friend of iron because it helps it get absorbed, Vitamin B6, riboflavin, as well as other nutrients are needed to help with the absorption of iron in the body. Baobab, nopal and fennel are a few of these nutrients.
If you have a health condition and or take medication, it’s always best to check with your healthcare provider prior to taking supplements.
Abdullah M, Jamil RT, Attia FN. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022.
Agte VV, Paknikar KM, Chiplonkar SA. Effect of riboflavin supplementation on zinc and iron absorption and growth performance in mice. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1998;65(2):109-115.
Hurrell R, Egli I. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(5):1461S-1467S.
Jáuregui-Lobera I. Iron deficiency and cognitive functions. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2014;10:2087-2095.