Iron is a mineral that is found in every cell of the human body, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults is 8 mg per day for men and 18 mg per day for women. However, this is a general guideline; teenagers and women who are pregnant may need higher amounts. It is possible to have too much iron in the body, so always check with a doctor before taking supplements.
This mineral performs a vital function in the human. It's necessary for the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are are two blood proteins that carry oxygen to cells. There are two kinds of iron typically found in food: heme and non-heme. The heme type is more easily absorbed than the non-heme, and is found in most meats, but especially red meat and organ meat such as liver. The non-heme type is found in fruits and grains, including prunes and raisins, green leafy vegetables, beans, and whole grains such as brown rice, and is harder for the body to absorb and use.
Low levels of iron in the body can often lead to iron deficiency anemia. Fatigue is the most common symptom of this type of anemia, because cells are not receiving enough oxygen. It can be caused by not eating enough iron, but also by being unable to absorb it properly. A doctor can diagnose anemia with a blood test.
There are several different factors that can affect how well the body absorbs iron. Vegetarians are at higher risk for anemia because they primarily consume the non-heme type, which is harder for the body to absorb. Certain medications, such as tetracycline, may also interfere with absorption. It is thought that drinking tea may also interfere with absorption, but consuming vitamin C can enhance the body's ability to absorb this vital nutrient.
People can supplement their iron intake by taking pills, but this should always be done under a doctor's supervision, after the cause of the anemia has been determined. Consuming too much iron can be dangerous, and in some cases fatal. The main signs of overconsumption include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and headache, shortness of breath, and a gray tint to the skin. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should stop taking their supplement and contact their physician immediately.