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Why your body needs iron

While it's true that your body needs a diverse blend of vitamins and minerals, few are as crucial to wellness as iron. However, the challenge for most people is finding a balance between too much and too little. Keep reading to find out how much iron you should take and the symptoms of an iron deficiency.

Why does your body need iron?

Iron joins dozens of other vitamins and minerals to support biological functions all over the body. However, given its role in growth, development, hormone production, and haemoglobin function, the importance of consuming adequate levels of iron through diet and supplementation is particularly important. Unfortunately, the body cannot produce iron naturally, instead relying on external sources to keep levels topped up.[1]

Let's quickly summarise the mineral's key benefits:

• Haemoglobin function: Iron supports haemoglobin production, which in turn helps red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen throughout the body.

• Mental and physical performance: Because iron helps to transport oxygen to the muscles and brain, it is crucial for maintaining healthy energy levels, performing strenuous activity, and cognitive function.

• Pregnancy: With the increased demand for RBCs during pregnancy, the need for iron grows in kind. Fortunately, the body will adapt quickly, improving the rate of iron absorption—but upping iron intake is crucial to healthy foetal development.

What is iron-deficiency anaemia?

Now that we know what iron does inside the body, it's time to look at the impact of iron-deficiency anaemia. Regrettably, iron remains one of the most common mineral deficits, so it's essential to know which symptoms to keep an eye out for.

What are the three stages of iron deficiency?

Iron-deficiency anaemia occurs when the body doesn't have enough iron, and therefore can't transport the oxygen it needs. However, the symptoms don't occur suddenly—iron-deficiency anaemia develops in stages.[2]

• Stage one: Although hard to detect, stage one iron-deficiency anaemia begins when iron stores run low. It is possible to test for reduced iron levels by measuring your serum ferritin ratio; a lower concentration of serum ferritin usually correlates with low iron stores.

• Stage two: With iron stores below their nominal level, RBC formation begins to suffer. Your body will adjust, using zinc instead of iron, but it can only maintain this backup process for so long.

• Stage three: Iron stores are almost entirely depleted, and iron-deficiency anaemia begins in earnest. The disruption to RBC formation continues with a breakdown of haemoglobin concentration, and transportation of oxygen around the body reaches critical levels.

What causes iron deficiency?

For most people, the primary cause of iron deficiency is a diet lacking in the mineral. A poorly balanced diet and certain exclusion diets can starve your body of the iron it needs to function correctly. Also, remember that the body needs greater levels of iron when pregnant, so increasing intake to match the demand is essential.

Significant iron loss can also occur alongside conditions that cause blood loss, such as heavy menstrual periods, chronic nosebleeds, or if you regularly give blood. If you're living with a chronic disease that affects blood loss or your digestive system, then regularly testing your iron levels is a must.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia

The problem with iron-deficiency anaemia is that it takes a while for symptoms to show; many are mild to begin with, and overlap with several other health conditions. If you've been experiencing the symptoms below, it's a good idea to test your iron levels:

• Fatigue
• Muscle weakness
• Dizziness
• Shortness of breath
• Pale skin
• Persistent headaches

Encouragingly, an iron deficiency is relatively easy to detect, with several testing methods available. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you can create a plan with your doctor to increase iron levels.

How much iron should I take?

A balanced and varied diet should provide all the iron your body needs to function. Still, it's always handy to know the recommended intake, especially if you suspect your iron intake is lacking.[3]

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recommends the following adequate intake (AI):


• Birth to 6 months old 0.27mg
• Infants 7–12 months old 11mg
• Children 1–3 years old 7mg
• Children 4–8 years old 10mg
• Children 9–13 years old 8mg


• Teen boys 14–18 years old 11mg
• Teen girls 14–18 years old 15mg
• Pregnant teens 27mg
• Breastfeeding teens 10mg


• Adult men 19–50 years old 8mg
• Adult women 19–50 years old 18mg
• Adults 51 years old and over 8mg
• Pregnant women 27mg
• Breastfeeding women 9mg

It's important to remember that these recommendations are just that—recommendations. The ideal iron intake varies according to diet, lifestyle, sex, and age.

Iron-rich food sources

If you suspect your diet needs an iron boost, there are plenty of foods to choose from. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but it should provide a starting point.

Foods rich in iron include:

• Spinach
• Liver (and other organ meats)
• Red meat
• Fortified cereals
• Oysters (and shellfish in general)
• Kidney beans/lentils/chickpeas
• Cashew nuts
• Tofu

The ideal daily values for each food will vary depending on personal circumstances, so you should consider speaking to a doctor or nutritionist for specific advice.

Iron supplements

Iron supplements are an excellent way to boost iron levels if the foods above don't fit your diet requirements. We'll cover the risks of too much iron shortly, but in the meantime, here's what you need to know about supplementation.

• Getting iron from supplements is much easier than you think. Virtually all multivitamins and multimineral supplements will include iron. It's also common for specific supplement formulas to contain traces of iron—another sign of how important it is to well-being.

• It's crucial to pay attention to the ratio of iron in supplements. Iron-focused products such as ferrous fumarate can contain up to 33% elemental iron, while a traditional multivitamin will have significantly less. Too much iron is also harmful, so balancing intake is the best way to support well-being.

Side effects of iron

Given the importance of iron in mental and physical well-being, it's all too easy to overload the body with more than it needs. However, even vitamins and minerals like iron can be harmful if consumed excessively.

What follows is the daily upper limit for iron (from all sources):

• Birth to 12 months old 40mg
• Children 1–13 years old 40mg
• Teens 14–18 years old 45mg
• Adults 19 years old and over 45mg

You'll notice that, compared to the recommended daily intake, the upper limit values are pretty generous. Most people would have to go out of their way to exceed the daily maximum.

However, exceed those recommendations, and side effects include:

• Constipation
• Stomach pain/general discomfort
• Sickness/nausea

Fortunately, the body is proficient in dealing with iron stores, and it shouldn't take long for side effects to pass, provided you reduce your intake accordingly. Also, be aware that children are significantly more susceptible to the damaging effects of excessive iron, so ensure you keep supplements out of their reach.

Why iron is important

Iron underpins several essential functions, with its primary purpose being to support red blood cells, haemoglobin production, and the transportation of oxygen. In short, not getting enough iron from food or supplements dramatically impacts mental and physical well-being. Though several health conditions can influence how well your body absorbs iron, most people will get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a balanced diet.

However, if you suspect you are suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia (one of the most common mineral deficiencies), naturally iron-rich foods and high-quality supplements can help get your well-being back on track. The key, of course, is a balanced intake, staying well within the minimum and upper thresholds outlined above.

Add iron to your daily wellness routine with a high-quality selection of supplements by visiting the Cibdol store. Or, to learn more about the role of vitamins and minerals in health and wellness, visit our Education section.


[1] Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. Published February 2014. Accessed August 18, 2022. [Source]

[2] Cook JD, Baynes RD, Skikne BS. Iron deficiency and the measurement of Iron Status: Nutrition Research Reviews. Cambridge Core. Published December 14, 2007. Accessed August 18, 2022. [Source]

[3] Office of dietary supplements - iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Published 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022. [Source]

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