Iron is a dietary mineral that plays an important role in the body, too little or excessive amounts in the blood can have dangerous effects on the body. Low amounts of iron in the blood can starve cells of oxygen, causing fatigue, low immune function and in severe cases, iron-deficiency anemia.
Common side effects of iron supplements include changes to bowel habits or constipation. Relief of constipation can be managed naturally by eating more fruits with the skin on, fresh vegetables, whole grains and drinking more water and being physically active.
Lowering the recommended dose of iron for a short time can give the body time to adjust. Changing to a different brand of supplement can also help, but generally speaking, the higher iron content tends to cause the most problems.
Too much iron:
It is important to discuss your need for supplements with your doctor, as high doses of iron (more than 100mg per day) can be toxic and fatal. An overdose of iron can overwhelm the intestines and occasionally lead to a degree of iron overload.
Because the body stores iron very efficiently and has no system to get rid of excess iron. People with hereditary hemochromatosis may absorb up to 30 per cent of the iron they consume. With this increased rate of absorption, the body cannot get rid of the excessive iron fast enough, so it builds up. The excess iron then interacts with oxygen in the body to produces free radicals which damage cells and eventually lead to organ failure, especially of the liver. Other problems that can be caused by excessive iron include heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
If you need to increase your intake of iron, it is strongly recommended that you make changes to your diet first and seek medical advice before taking an iron supplement.
Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. An iron deficiency means less oxygen is delivered to the cells, which can lead to fatigue, poor work performance and susceptibility to infections.
Common causes of iron deficiency include an inadequate diet, heavy blood loss, increased need, excretion and an inability to absorb iron from food.
In most cases, diet is the key to restoring the balance. There are two types of iron:
- Haem iron found in flesh foods, such as red meat, chicken and fish
- Non-haem iron found in plant foods, such as wholegrain breads, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, eggs, legumes and some vegetables
There are foods that inhibit iron absorption such as; calcium supplements, tea and coffee. So eat.
Pregnant women and those with a diagnosed iron deficiency are most likely to benefit from taking an iron supplement.
Iron rich menu:
Scrambled eggs and whole-wheat toast or iron-fortified cereal and low-fat yoghurt with fresh orange or grapefruit juice.
Bean, spinach and tomato salad and whole-wheat roll or whole-wheat pita and tuna, capsicum, avocado, spinach and two kiwifruit.
Beef and vegetable stir-fry and basmati rice or whole-wheat spaghetti and sauce (tomato, onion, capsicum, mushroom, red kidney beans) and a fruit salad.
How much iron do you need?
Age: Males (mg/day) Females (mg/day)
Infants 7 – 12 months 11 11
Children 1 – 8 years 9 – 10 9 – 10
Children 9 – 13 years 8 9 – 10
Adolescents 14 – 18 years 11 15
Adults 19 – 50 8 18
Adults 51 plus years 8 8
Eat a healthy iron-rich diet and get enough exercise to stay healthy. If you start to look after your health at an early age, you will benefit from it later in life.