Most of people know iron is a very important mineral for health because it helps to transport oxygen in the blood.  What you may not know is that iron is also needed (directly) for the function of muscles and other organs because tissue cells use iron to generate energy from food in their metabolic processes.

Dietary iron comes as one of two classes: heme iron (from animal sources) and non-heme iron (from plant sources).  Heme is a compound that binds iron and is found in a number of iron-transporting proteins, such as hemoglobin.  Non-heme iron is not bound in this way.  Heme iron has a higher rate of absorption (up to 35%) than non-heme (up to 20%).  The best food sources of iron are meat, poultry, beans, lentils, spinach and swiss chard.

Men need about 8 mg of iron daily.  Women require more during the reproductive years, ranging from 18 mg daily for those who are menstruating to 10 mg for those who are breast-feeding and 27 mg for those who are pregnant.  Children and teenagers require amounts that vary according to gender, age and stage of development, with amounts ranging from to less than 1 mg for infants and 15 mg for teenaged girls.  High doses of iron are unsafe for children and are the most common cause of poisoning deaths in children. Doses of 60 mg/kg or more can be fatal.

Taking iron as a supplement can cause stomach upset and pain, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Taking it with food reduces these side effects but also reduce absorption so iron should be taken on an empty stomach if possible. Try to avoid taking it with foods containing dairy products, coffee, tea, or cereals as they tend to impair absorption; taking iron with a source of Vitamin C such as orange juice can increase its absorption.

Iron can interact with a variety of conditions, medications and other supplements:

  • diabetes, stomach/intestinal ulcers, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), thalassemia
  • antibiotics (Cipro, Penetrex, Chibroxin, Noroxin, Zagam, Trovan, Raxar, tetracyclines) bisphosponates, chloramphenicol, levothyroxine, methyldopa, and others
  • beta-carotene, calcium, riboflavin, soy protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, zinc, dairy foods

If you think you may be iron-deficient, please consult a medical doctor, ND or pharmacist before taking supplemental iron.

Foods rich in iron include greens such as spinach, legumes, dried fruits, eggs, and meat.