The Importance Of Iron & Why You Might Be Deficient
Iron is an essential mineral needed by your body to keep it functioning properly. It helps produce red blood cells and transport oxygen throughout your body, which in turn gives you energy and the ability to function on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most of us struggle in utilizing the iron we have– leading to various symptoms like fatigue, decreased exercise performance, poor concentration and more. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of iron and discuss why you may be deficient (or not) so that you can take steps towards living a healthier life!
The Importance of Iron in Our Bodies
Let's start by discussing why iron is crucial for our health. Iron is needed to maintain healthy hemoglobin levels, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to our muscles and tissues. Oxygen is vital because it provides us with energy, without which we wouldn't function properly.
But that's not all! Iron is also a vital component of many proteins and enzymes that help cells to function properly. It is necessary for neurological development, cell growth and differentiation, endocrine function, energy production, and synthesis of other nutrients. From the production of red blood cells to the regulation of our immune system, iron plays a crucial role in keeping us healthy.
Iron Storage and Metabolism
Iron is an essential nutrient for human health, enabling the transport of oxygen throughout the body and playing a critical role in energy metabolism. Only about 3-4 grams of our iron stores are located in hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Most of our iron reserves are actually stored in other parts of the body. The liver, spleen, and bone marrow store the majority of our iron as ferritin inside cells. These reserves ensure a continuous supply of iron in the bloodstream to support its various bodily functions.
Do you know how iron gets metabolized in our body? You're already aware of its significance, but let me fill you in on the details. Let's break it down. Our body has a built-in iron recycling system called the Reticuloendothelial System (RES). This system includes our red blood cells, small intestine, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. In particular, our liver plays a key role in removing old red blood cells and recycling their iron. Our bone marrow also helps out by producing monocytes that consume damaged blood cells and eventually turn into macrophages that recycle the iron. It's pretty amazing, right?
Iron deficiency symptoms include the following:
- Hair loss
- Pale skin
- Craving for Ice
- Cold extremities
- Dizziness or brain fog
The importance of iron recycling system?
"Why do we need an iron recycling system?" Our bodies lack a natural mechanism to eliminate iron, resulting in only minimal daily losses. Although this may vary for women during menstruation, they naturally absorb more iron.
Our RES can recycle 24mg of iron a day, leaving us with that tiny 1mg of iron that we lose, which we can easily get from food. It’s important to note that we need about 25mg of iron to support red blood cell production, so the 24+1=25mg makes perfect sense when working in unison.
Sources of Iron
If you're a vegan, it might be trickier to find plant-based sources of iron that are easily absorbed in the body. That's because ferric iron, which is often found in plants, needs to be converted into ferrous iron (known as heme iron) for the body to use. Animal-based foods tend to be better sources of this nutrient. As a vegan, you already know that your iron intake requires extra care and attention. Choosing plant-based iron sources may require more effort for your body to absorb compared to animal products. Opting for easier-to-absorb iron sources supports a healthy and balanced diet.
Your body regulates iron absorption based on usage, loss, and the recycling process. The liver produces hepcidin, which determines the amount of iron absorbed or discarded. Moving excess iron from the RES system to the serum to be carried throughout the blood by transferrin is where Ferroportin steps in. However, life's never straightforward because Ferroportin can't go solo. Getting iron in and out of tissues requires adequate bioavailable copper bound to ceruloplasmin protein. As you can see, it's complicated, but, hey, we'll figure it out together.
Some things that can hinder the RES from working
- An excessive consumption of iron (whether it be through diet or supplements)
Adrenal issues (such as adrenal fatigue)
• Infections (such as parasites, bacterial or viral infections) for pathogens feed off of iron
• Poor liver function (that is where most iron is recycled and stored)
• Issues transforming ferric iron to ferrous
• Lack of copper (ushers iron in and out of tissues)
• Inability to synthesize ceruloplasmin (allows copper to be bio available)
• Not enough retinol (helps with the production of ceruloplasmin)
• Low hepcidin (the main protein that regulates how much we absorb or don’t absorb iron)
I'm sure you may be wondering if there are any circumstances where iron supplementation is necessary. The answer is yes. Iron supplementation is not always recommended due to factors that affect iron utilization. However, there are situations where extra iron may be necessary, such as excessive blood loss, genetic predisposition, or pathogen consumption of iron.
Collaborating with a qualified practitioner is crucial when supplementing iron, as it requires careful consideration. FIf you need a comprehensive assessment of iron levels, the Full Monty Iron Panel is your best option. Talk to your practitioner to find out how to get this assortment of blood work. Additionally, hair tissue testing provides valuable insight into the state of the liver, adrenals, copper, and metals, aiding in further examination of the situation.