Iron is a trace mineral that is an essential nutrient, present in all the cells of our body. It plays many, important roles in our body: it’s a carrier of oxygen to the body in the form of Hemoglobin, it facilitates the storage of oxygen in muscles as myoglobin, and it’s integral to the production of enzymes that help us digest our food and absorb nutrients from it.
According to the CDC, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US as well as very common worldwide. In severe cases, iron deficiency can lead to the development of anemia, a condition where there aren’t enough healthy -- oxygen-carrying -- red blood cells being produced. Iron deficiency is highest among young children and pregnant women as well as women who are menstruating.
If you are low in iron, you may have low energy, feel inappropriately cold, have dizziness, pale skin, or have difficulty catching your breath during exercise -- all related to the lack of oxygen getting to all your cells.
We normally get enough iron from the foods we eat. If we are omnivores, we can eat foods high in the organic heme form of iron found in foods such beef, liver, pork poultry, fish and shellfish. For vegans, iron can be found in nonheme form in foods like spinach, chard, kale, molasses, pumpkin seeds, lima beans and kidney beans.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for elemental iron is 8mg for adult males and non-menstruating females, 18mg for menstruating females, and 27mg for pregnant females.
If supplements are needed, look for iron supplements in the ferrous form, specifically ferrous fumarate (33% absorption), ferrous sulphate and ferrous gluconate (12% absorbed). Don’t use the ferric forms, as they are very poorly absorbed. Supplements are usually only taken for a month or two in order to raise the levels up to norms.