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Importance of Iron for Human Health

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Iron is a vital mineral that performs a critical function in the human body. Read the article below to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sugreev Singh

Published At June 15, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 15, 2023


Iron is an indispensable mineral that is needed for the functioning of the human body. It acts as a vital component of hemoglobin and also involved in several other important bodily functions, including immune system function, energy production, and cognitive development. This article will explore the importance of iron for human health and the consequences of iron deficiency.

Why Is Iron Important For Human Health?

  1. Hemoglobin Production: One of the primary functions of iron is to help produce hemoglobin. Without sufficient iron, the body is not able to produce enough hemoglobin, which leads to anemia.

  2. Oxygen Transport: As mentioned, iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. Insufficient iron intake can result in reduced hemoglobin production, leading to anemia, (low levels of red blood cells) and decreased capacity to transport oxygen.

  3. Immune System Function: Iron is also necessary for proper immune system function. It produces white blood cells, which play as a body's defense system against infections and illnesses. A lack of iron can impair the body's ability to fight infections, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses.

  4. Energy Production: Iron is involved in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the body's primary source of energy. Without enough iron, the body may struggle to produce ATP, resulting in feelings of fatigue and weakness.

  5. Cognitive Development: Iron is important for proper brain function and cognitive development, particularly in infants, children, and adolescents. Iron deficiency during these developmental stages can lead to impaired learning ability and memory.

  6. DNA Synthesis: Iron is also involved in the synthesis of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Our cells are made up of genetic material called DNA, which plays a vital role in controlling the functions of the body. Insufficient iron in the body can result in inadequate DNA production, leading to a range of health complications.

What Are the Various Roles that Iron Plays?

  • Iron and Brain Function: Iron is important for the proper functioning of the brain. Iron is a crucial component in the production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which play a vital role in the regulation of mood and behavior.

  • Iron and Exercise: Iron is important for athletic performance as it plays a critical role in producing hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to muscles. Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, weakness, and decreased endurance.

  • Iron and Pregnancy: Iron is especially important during pregnancy, as it is needed for the formation of red blood cells in both the mother and the developing fetus. During pregnancy, insufficient levels of iron can result in anemia, premature delivery, and a baby with low birth weight.

  • Iron and Immune Function: Iron plays a critical role in immune function, as it is needed for the production of white blood cells to fight off infections and diseases.

  • Iron and Skin Health: Iron is important for maintaining healthy skin, as it produces collagen, which gives skin strength and elasticity.

  • Iron and Cancer Prevention: Some studies have suggested that high levels of iron increases the risk of certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer. Further studies are required to comprehend the correlation between iron and cancer completely.

  • Iron and Aging: Iron plays a role in the aging process, as excess iron in the body can contribute to oxidative stress and damage cells and tissues. This may increase the risk of age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

  • Iron and Genetics: Certain genetic mutations can affect the body's ability to use iron properly, leading to conditions like hemochromatosis or iron-deficiency anemia.

  • Iron in Foods: While red meat is the best source of iron, many other foods are high in this essential mineral. Vegetarians and vegans can get iron from sources like lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals.

  • Iron Supplements: Iron supplements are frequently prescribed to individuals with low iron levels, but may result in side effects such as constipation and nausea. Consulting a physician before taking iron supplements is crucial since excessive iron intake can be detrimental to health.

What Is Iron Deficiency and its Consequences?

Iron deficiency is a prevalent nutritional deficiency that affects a large population globally, affecting an estimated 30 percent of the world's population. Women, children, and individuals living in developing countries are at risk of iron deficiency. The consequences of iron deficiency can be severe and long-lasting. Anemia is the most common consequence of iron deficiency, which can cause fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. Severe anemia can lead to heart problems and even death, particularly in pregnant women and young children.

Iron deficiency can also lead to impaired immune system function, making individuals more susceptible to infections and diseases. The required amount of iron for a person can be influenced by many factors such as age, gender, and overall health. Pregnant women, for example, require more iron to support the growth and development of their fetuses. Children and adolescents also require more iron during periods of growth and development. In children, iron deficiency can cause developmental delays, cognitive impairment, and behavioral problems. In pregnant women, iron deficiency can increase the risk of complications during childbirth and low birth weight in infants.

How to Get Sufficient Iron?

The daily recommended iron intake may differ based on various factors, including gender and age. Adult men and postmenopausal women need around eight milligrams of iron per day, while premenopausal women need 18 milligrams per day due to menstrual blood loss. Infants and children require varying amounts depending on their age.

Iron can be acquired from a diverse range of food sources, which include:

  1. Red Meat, Poultry, and Fish: These animal-based foods contain heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron.

  2. Beans, Lentils, and Soy Products: These plant-based foods contain non-heme iron, which is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron.

  3. Fortified Cereals and Bread: Many grain-based foods are fortified with iron to increase their nutrient content.

  4. Vegetables With Dark Green Leaves, Like Spinach and Kale: These vegetables are a good source of non-heme iron.

While it is essential to get enough iron, too much iron can also be harmful. Iron overload can occur when the body stores too much iron, leading to damage to the liver, heart, and other organs. Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition that can cause iron overload. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial before taking iron supplements, especially if someone has a history of liver disease or is taking other medications.


In conclusion, iron is a vital nutrient for human health. Iron is a crucial element required for red blood cell production, immune system function, and DNA synthesis. Although iron is present in several food sources, iron deficiency is common, especially among women of childbearing age, young children, and vegetarians. It is important to get enough iron through and discuss with a healthcare provider before taking iron supplements. Maintaining healthy iron levels can help prevent anemia, support immune system function, and promote overall health and well-being.

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Dr. Sugreev Singh
Dr. Sugreev Singh

Internal Medicine


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