Let´s get on with the second essential micro element. And this is iron. We will get to know “The Importance of Iron in the Body? – The Oxygen Carrier”. We will also find out what is special about iron, how much you need of it, from where you can get it and what else might be interesting about this micro element.
Why can we call Iron the Oxygen Carrier?
The main and most important tasks of iron are the transport, conversion and storage of oxygen in our body.
Metaphorically we can imagine this like the oxygen supply of a scuba diver. The oxygen tank is the place, where the oxygen is stored. If the diver is under water and needs to breath, the oxygen from the tank is transported through the hose of the oxygen supply and enters our body through the mouthpiece. In the lung, the oxygen will be converted to be absorbed into the blood.
Then the same procedure happens in our body.
The absorbed oxygen is stored in the red blood pigment heme, so it can be transferred through the blood to the regions, where oxygen is needed. There the oxygen is converted and is emitted.
So now we know that iron is essential in the oxygen distribution and therefore in all processes of our metabolism.
What is Iron?
Iron is an essential micro or trace element, which we have to get through our nutrition.
It is a long known metal, is water-soluble, but can also build insoluble compounds with oxalic acid for example. In the human body iron ions mostly are present as iron (II), which are water-soluble and iron (III), which are not easily water-soluble. On the earth, it is often found bound to iron ore.
Normally iron is odorless, but as iron comes in contact with our skin, the typical metal-like smell develops because of a reaction of the sweat and the fat on our skin with the iron.
What is the demand of Iron?
Depending on the age, health and lifestyle the daily demand for an average and healthy adult for iron is about
8 – 18 milligrams (mg) per day.
Where can you get Iron from (Top foods)?
Here are the Top foods, which are rich in Iron:
1. Hemp Seeds (up to 40 mg/100g),
2. Pumpkin Seeds (up to 12 mg/100g)
3. Amaranth, quinoa and millet (up to 9 mg/100g)
4. Pistachios, egg yellow and mushrooms (up to 7 mg/100ml)
5. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, basil, dill, parsley and lamb´s lettuce
(up to 4 mg/100ml)
An overall good vegan source for iron is the algae chlorella (225 mg/100g). Meat and whole grains are other good sources for iron.
What are the functions and benefits of Iron?
As already described above, the most important function of iron is its effect on the oxygen cycle, which includes activation, transport, electron release and storage of oxygen. Moreover, it is indispensable in the blood formation and the energy metabolism.
Iron plays a role mainly in three different enzyme classes:
Classes of enzymes for oxygen transport and energy metabolism
Class 1 – Heme
In the cofactor heme b iron is the central atom, which can be found in hemoglobin (protein, which binds oxygen in the red blood cells), myoglobin (muscle protein, which contains a heme group to bind oxygen) and cytochrome (working within the respiratory chain in redox reactions, which are necessary in the energy metabolism).
Class 2 – Iron- Sulfur – Cluster
This is a compound in enzymes, which is used in the respiratory chain. The respiratory chain is a process in our body to generate energy for example by supplying energy on the cellular level.
Class 3 – Other non – heme – iron enzymes
These enzymes exist in humans, as well as in other species, for example in bacteria. For humans, there are enzymes used in the formation of the DNA or in the detoxification of hydrogen peroxide in the cells.
Important proteins for oxygen storage and transport
The most important proteins, which store oxygen are ferritin (20%) and its degradation product hemosiderin (37%). Transferrin is crucial for the transport of iron, although it only contains about 0,4 % of the whole amount of iron in our body.
What deficiency symptoms of Iron exist?
Risk factors for a deficiency are blood loss, menstruation and special diets like veganism or vegetarianism. For blood loss it is common to use the relation of 1 mg iron per 2 ml of lost blood.
Symptoms caused by a lack of iron can be as followed:
- dry/weak skin, hair loss and fragile nails
- inflammations in the mouth region
- heart insufficiency
- circulatory system problems
- lack of concentration
What overdose symptoms of Iron exist?
An overdose of iron through nutrition is rare. A supplementation of iron should only be done if necessary. Symptoms of an overdose of iron can be:
- hemochromatosis (iron overload, because more iron is absorbed in the upper gut, mostly a genetic disorder)
- Parkinson´s disease/Alzheimer´s disease (more iron is found in the brain)
What else may you have to consider about Iron?
Value in our body
The amount of iron in our body is about 2 – 5 grams. About 66 % of it can be found in hemoglobin. About 35 % can be found in ferritin, hemosiderin (20%), myoglobin (5%) and non-heme-iron-enzymes (10%). The little rest is found in transferrin and other iron-containing enzymes.
Antagonists and Advice
Milk, coffee, tea, pulses and other minerals such as calcium decrease the absorption of iron in the gut.
Another group of antagonists is food containing phytic acid, like pulses, grains and oilseeds. Soak pulses in water to reduce the phytic acid. This is the same aspect as it is for zinc.
As oxalic acid in spinach is also able to bind iron and make it insoluble, it is recommended to eat it together with vitamin C rich food, as it has the ability to increase the absorption rate of iron again.
Another very important antagonist, which on the other side helps to increase the absorption rate of iron in the gut, is the essential micro element copper.
Discovery and Use
Iron is long known. There is the term the “iron age”. That there is iron in the blood was already known since the beginning of the 19th century.
The word “iron” has some different origins. One comes from the Latin word “ira”, which means anger, which stands for the strong solidity of iron. There are also old Germanic origins like “isarn”, which forms the German word “Eisen”.
The element Fe from the periodic table comes from the Latin word “ferrum”.
We need iron just like the air we breathe in order to use the oxygen from the air we breathe in our body and in our cells. Iron is necessary to convert, transport and store oxygen, which occurs within enzymatic proteins. Therefore, iron also promotes the energy metabolism and the formation of blood and the DNA. Hemp and pumpkin seeds, amaranth and green leafy vegetables are nice sources of iron in food.
Now to you. What do you think? What was interesting here or do you want to know something else? Let us know in the comments.