Iron levels are just as important as the other levels of various vitamins you have in your body. You can become ill if there is too much or too little iron in your system. How much iron do we really need? For this question, the answer varies depending upon the gender, activity level, dietary plan, medications and a host of other factors that vary amongst individuals.
If you are a blood donor, you know that you may not be allowed to give blood when you have low levels of iron in your blood. This is because our bodies can't live with too much iron, but they definitely can't live without iron. The only way to truly find out how much iron is right for you is to contact your doctor and take a blood test to see how much iron you currently have in your body.
What does iron do to our bodies?
Iron levels are important, because iron works to help carry the oxygen through our blood stream. It is essential for hemoglobin, the protein in our red blood cells. Hemoglobin takes oxygen and carries it to various cells in our bodies. It is also essential for myoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen to our muscles.
Iron also helps our brains to build new tissue when we are young. Iron is absorbed through the foods we eat, and our bodies can change the amount we absorb based on our need. Iron is also responsible for taking some of the energy from the food we eat and metabolizing it. This is why we feel tired and lethargic if we don't have enough iron in our system.
What happens when our iron levels are too low?
The most common problem with iron being too low is iron-deficiency anemia. This deficiency decreases the amount of red blood cells in your body. It can be cured by changing your diet and taking supplements, and, in extreme cases, an IV can administer iron to your body. If you suffer from iron deficiency you will experience fatigue and lack of concentration, as well memory loss.
If you are deficient in iron you can also experience hair loss and brittle nails as well as changes in your complexion. You can get headaches and dizziness as well as restless leg syndrome. In some severe cases, your immune system can even be weakened by low iron levels, and you can develop sensitivity to the cold.
What causes us to have low iron?
Blood loss is one of the main factors contributing to low iron. If you have had an injury, donate blood on a frequent basis, or lose a lot of blood due to your menstrual cycle, you could be at an increased risk of low iron. A bleeding ulcer or problems with your colon, like colon cancer or polyps, or an intestinal disease such as Crohns can also decrease your iron levels.
If you don't eat right and have an unbalanced diet, you are more likely to have an iron deficiency. Foods like meat, fish, poultry and eggs have good amounts of iron and should play a part in your everyday diet; some vegetables also contain iron. Pregnant women are at risk for having low iron; when you see your doctor to discuss prenatal vitamins, make sure you address your iron concerns as well.
Your body can also have a natural tendency not to absorb the amount of iron that you need.
What happens when our iron levels are too high?
Iron overdoses or poisonings are more common in older people and children, but they can happen anytime someone has even a bit too much iron. Children can get ahold of iron pills and ingest them with fatal consequences. An iron overdose can affect the airways, nervous system, heart, brain, lungs, intestines, and even the skin. It's important to call the poison control center immediately if you see the common signs for iron poisoning; diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and chills and fever.
Iron overdoses are treated by either pumping the stomach or giving the patient an agent that absorbs the iron in their body. People who take iron supplements should talk to their doctor about the iron levels they're putting into their bodies to make sure that they don't overdose. Make sure that you keep your medicines, vitamins, and other medical supplies away from your children at all times. Iron poisoning is the most common cause of poisoning death in children under five; kids have a tendency to think things that look like candy are candy, and the results can be fatal.
So how much iron should I have?
Men don't need as much iron as women do. This is one of the reasons that vitamin supplements are made especially for men and women. Pregnant women and women who have heavy menstrual cycles are at risk for low iron, and should take an iron supplement. Iron levels vary from person to person, but taking a multivitamin usually does the trick for most people to get the iron they need.
If you think you suffer from an iron deficiency, visit your doctor. They can give you information on your iron levels by doing blood tests and testing how much iron your body is capable of absorbing. If you don't worry about your iron intake, check the Recommended Daily Amount chart for how many milligrams of iron are suggested a day for your age and gender. You can also find information about the different amounts of iron in all of the foods that you eat and buy on a regular basis; this way you can feed your family enough iron to help their blood and give them energy, but ensure you aren't giving them too much.