Our lives today are extremely busy. Considering that we’re always on the go, exhaustion and fatigue seem like every day problems which we often attribute to our hectic schedules. However, these can also be caused by a deficiency of iron. Iron is one of the key nutrients your body requires to perform its daily activities. Its main functions include the metabolization of proteins and the production of hemoglobin, enzymes, and red blood cells (RBCs). A lower RBC count can impair the transfer of oxygen to the various tissues and organs within the body. Iron is also essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Here are some of the greatest benefits of iron for skin, hair, and health that you should know:
Iron Skin Benefits
Iron Hair Benefits
Iron Health Benefits
- Makes You Energetic
- Improves Appetite
- Aids Muscle Function
- Contributes To Brain Development
- Ensures A Healthy Pregnancy
- Enhances Immunity
- Alleviates Restless Leg Syndrome
- Provides Relief From Premenstrual Symptoms
Benefits Of Iron For The Skin
1. Gives Your Skin A Healthy Glow
Pale skin and dark circles are the most common signs of anemia caused due to iron deficiency (1). The lack of iron causes hemoglobin levels to decrease, resulting in the subsequent reduction of RBCs. The reduced oxygen flow can deprive your skin of its color, making it look sallow. A healthy dose of iron-rich foods in your daily diet can give your skin a pinkish glow.
2. Speeds Up Wound Healing
Iron also plays an important role in speeding up the process of wound healing. It helps in the formation of RBCs, the most essential constituent of hemoglobin that transports oxygen around the body. Without the proper supply of oxygen (that also carries other nutrients), wound healing cannot take place (2). You know what to do about treating those painful wounds the next time!
Benefits Of Iron For The Hair
3. Fights Hair Loss
A European Journal of Dermatology study found that women can experience excessive hair loss due to iron deficiency (). The study reported that low iron stores increase the rate of hair fall, especially in non-menopausal women. Iron also helps improve hair texture and reduces dullness by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the hair roots and scalp.
[ Read: Iron for Hair Growth ]
Benefits Of Iron For Health
4. Makes You Energetic
Iron acts as a carrier of oxygen in the body and transfers it to the muscles and the brain, thereby increasing both physical performance and mental alertness. Low levels of iron within the body can make you inattentive, irritable, and fatigued. As per a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, iron supplementation helps improve exercise performance in women (4).
5. Improves Appetite
For those concerned parents whose kids are small eaters, iron supplementation may help increase your child’s appetite. A study by The Journal of Nutrition performed on Kenyan primary school children found that iron supplementation increased appetite and growth in children (5).
6. Aids Muscle Function
Iron is also extremely important for improved muscle health. It aids in the production of myoglobin (a muscle protein) that carries oxygen from hemoglobin and stores it in the muscle cells (6). It thereby helps in the contraction of muscles.
7. Contributes To Brain Development
New mothers must make sure that their kids have a diet rich in iron to ensure healthy brain development. As per a study by the Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, the cognitive, motor, social-emotional, and neurophysiological development in infants suffering from iron deficiency anemia is lower than those who are not (7). The study thus emphasizes the importance of preventing iron deficiency for improved brain health.
8. Ensures A Healthy Pregnancy
Doctors recommend pregnant women to increase their intake of iron from food sources or supplements. A Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews study reports that the prenatal supplementation of iron helps lower the risk of low birth weight and prevents maternal anemia during pregnancy (8). Pregnant women should take 27 milligrams of iron a day (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/). Iron supplements are best absorbed when supplemented with foods rich in vitamin C, such as orange, grapefruit, and tomato juice.
9. Enhances Immunity
Another wondrous health benefit of iron is its ability to bolster up immunity. According to Linus Pauling Institute, iron is highly useful for a number of immune functions such as the differentiation and proliferation of T lymphocytes and the production of reactive oxygen species that fight pathogens (9).
10. Alleviates Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), a neurologic movement disorder, creates an urge to move the legs repeatedly. These sensations get further intensified at rest, and therefore, cause disturbed sleep. A study conducted by Age and Aging found that the deficiency of iron (with or without anemia) can trigger RLS in the elderly (10). Taking iron supplements can, thus, alleviate its symptoms.
11. Provides Relief From Premenstrual Symptoms
Studies suggest that a high intake of iron can provide relief from premenstrual symptoms like dizziness, mood swings, hypertension, etc. As per research conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, women who enjoy an iron-rich diet have 30 to 40 per cent lower risk of experiencing PMS compared to women who consume less iron (11).
Sources Of Iron
Here are the top food sources you can obtain your daily dose of iron from:
Heme (Animal) Sources: These are the best sources for increasing and maintaining good iron levels in your body.
- Beef liver
- Chicken liver
Non-Heme (Plant) Sources: These sources of iron are absorbed less by the body and require Vitamin C to be absorbed in greater amounts.
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Leafy green vegetables
- Whole grains
- Dry fruits
- Dairy products
Age And Gender-Wise Daily Recommended Intake Of Iron
As per the Linus Pauling Institute, following is the recommended dietary intake of iron:
|Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Iron|
|Stage||Age||Men (mg per day)||Women (mg per day)|
|Infancy||0-6 months||0.27 (adequate intake)||0.27 (adequate intake)|
|Adulthood||51 years and older||8||8|
|Breastfeeding||18 years and younger||–||10|
|Breastfeeding||19 years and older||–||9|
The Risks Associated With Iron Deficiency
Below are some of the greatest risks associated with iron deficiency:
Anemia is the biggest risk associated with the deficiency of the mineral. This disease displays symptoms like fatigue, faintness, body weakness, headaches, and enhanced sensitivity to cold temperatures. It can also result in other health problems like low blood pressure, kidney failure, leukemia, muscle spasms, colon cancer, etc (12).
2. Lead Toxicity
Iron deficiency can also heighten the chances of lead poisoning in kids. A study by the Science of the Total Environment found that high iron intake and adequate iron stores can lower the risk of lead poisoning among children (13).
Other problems associated with iron deficiency include weakened immunity, pregnancy complications, intellectual impairments in children, etc.
The Risks Associated With Excessive Iron Consumption
Though iron is extremely important in our body, its excessive consumption can also be very dangerous. Following are the adverse effects associated with iron overdose:
1. Increased Risk Of Cardiovascular Diseases
A study conducted by Indiana University found that heme iron, contained in red meat, can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by 57 per cent (14). As per the study, non-heme iron doesn’t have any impact on the risk of heart diseases. It is, therefore, important that you limit your intake of iron from heme sources.
2. High Incidence Of Cancer
High iron intake can also increase the risk of cancers like colorectal, colon, and liver cancer. A Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention study found a connection between iron and an increased susceptibility to colorectal cancer (15).
3. Occurrence Of Gastrointestinal Problems
Doctors world over recommend iron supplementation to people suffering from iron deficiency. These supplements may, however, cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and dark stools (http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/iron-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/side-effects/drg-20070148). Check with your doctor on ways to minimize these symptoms.
4. High Risk Of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Though iron is important for improved brain function, an accumulation of excess iron can make your brain prone to increased oxidative damage. It can, thus, contribute to the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the elderly (16).
5. Susceptibility To Type-2 Diabetes
Another study by the American Diabetes Association found that heme iron is also responsible for increased risk of type-2 diabetes in women (17).
6. Increased Suceptibility To Premature Skin Aging
Many sources state that iron helps prevent premature skin aging. This claim, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. A study conducted by Ageing Research Reviews reports that an overdose of iron can increase the production of toxic hydroxyl radical, thereby contributing to oxidative damage, that in turn leads to early skin aging (18).
Having learned about the vitality of this mineral, you can now ensure that your diet comprises of a healthy dose of iron, especially from non-heme sources (consumed along with vitamin C-rich foods). If you are thinking of taking iron supplements, make sure you consult a doctor about the ideal dosage. Stay healthy, stay safe. Do share your feedback with us.
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