Iron is a trace mineral that contributes to growth, development, and normal cell function. It is found naturally in foods, fortified in others and is also available as a supplement. Iron is major part of hemoglobin, which is a protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. Most of the iron stored in the body is in the form of hemoglobin.
Iron is most prevalent in seafood and lean meats, smaller amounts are available in many different plant sources. Much of the dietary iron in the typical diet in the developed world comes from consumption of fortified grains and breads. The best dietary sources of iron include oysters, beef, sardines, tuna, chicken breast, beans, lentils, spinach, chickpeas and turkey. Most multivitamins, especially those formulated for women, contain 100% of the recommended daily value.
Iron deficiency on its own is fairly rare, it is usually combined with deficiency of other vitamins and minerals. There are several groups of people who are at risk of iron deficiency, they include pregnant women, infants and young children, menstruating women, people who are frequent blood donors, people with cancer and those with chronic heart problems.
Anemia is the most common condition associated with iron deficiency, it is fairly common in pregnant women and is associated with low birthweight, premature birth, and impaired behavioral and cognitive development. Anemia is also found in a significant number of infants and toddlers which leads to attention and social problems that can be irreversible.
Too much iron in the diet is rarely an issue in healthy adults, as it is easily digested. Too much supplemental iron can cause digestive issues, and in high enough doses has even been linked to death. Iron also interacts with several different prescription medications, and some medicines can deplete iron levels.