All ironed out

Health and Fitness

One of the most important (and poorly understood) minerals in human physiology is iron (Fe).

So precisely what are the main functions/roles of iron in the human body?
  • Delivery of oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body 
  • Iron allows the oxygen to diffuse throughout the muscle cells, driving aerobic metabolism, a key to maintaining peak athletic performance and endurance
  • Iron is used to help produce and maintain connective tissues in our body. Tendons, ligaments and muscles all maintain optimum strength and resilience when the body’s iron requirements are adequately met.
  • Iron is used to produce some of the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body) in our brains.
Iron deficiency and what to look for
  • Decreased work, school and athletic performance
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to infection
  • Slow cognitive and social development during childhood 
  • A deficiency of iron limits oxygen delivery and uptake to cells, resulting in fatigue, poor work performance and impaired immune function to name just a few impacts.
Other factors to consider
  • Food - Foods high in iron include eggs, nuts, spinach, beans, seafood, liver, sesame and chickpeas.
  • Individual Requirements - An individual’s iron requirements are just that – individual. Some people are poor absorbers of iron and may need oral iron supplementation.   
  • Menstruation - Some women have a greater need for iron due to heavier than normal menses.
  • Pregnancy - The iron requirements of pregnant women are approximately twice that of non-pregnant women, due to the increased blood volume during pregnancy, increased needs of the foetus, and blood losses that occur during delivery.  
  • Infants - Generally iron is present in breast milk and relatively well absorbed… however if a mother’s milk is supplemented and/or replaced by a commercial baby formula, the absorption of the iron is considerably decreased.  

 

The other side of the coin

While too little iron clearly has a negative impact on health and athletic performance, so too can too much iron. A condition where the body stores excess iron can not only adversely impact athletic performance, it can be deadly. Many of these symptoms (fatigue, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, etc.) can mimic iron deficiency. The good news is that if diagnosed, treatment is relatively simple.

- Guy Leech
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