Importance/ Role of Iron in the diet and its deficiency disorders

By | February 9, 2013


Iron is a mineral essential for life. It is present in every living cell and is necessary for the production of hemoglobin (primary component of red blood cells), myoglobin (major protein of muscle cells), and certain enzymes. About two-thirds of the bodily iron is found in hemoglobin. Other health benefits of iron are iron deficiency anemia, anemia of chronic disease, cough, anemia in pregnancy, predialysis anemia and many more.  Calcium and copper must be present for iron to function properly, and ascorbic acid (vitamin c) enhances absorption. Iron is necessary for proper metabolization of B vitamins. Iron helps the blood and muscles deliver oxygen to every body cell, and it removes carbon dioxide from them. Iron is important to many immune system functions, and the body self monitors and regulates the absorption and use of iron for varying needs. Benefits include a strong immune system, provision of energy, and mental sharpness.

Important Sources:

Iron is found in both vegetarian (known as heme iron) and non-vegetarian (known as non-heme iron) foods Legumes, lentils, soy beans, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, cereals, bread, spinach, turnip, sprouts, broccoli and dry fruits also have good iron content. Liver, round steak, hamburger, baked beans, pork, white beans, pork, lima beans, black-eyed peas, fish, chicken, iron-fortified cereals, oatmeal, bagel, english muffin, rye bread, whole wheat bread, white bread, prune juice, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, plums, spinach, peas, asparagus, Brewer’s yeast, kelp squash, seeds (pumpkin, squash, sunflower), blackstrap molasses, and wheat bran. Food items containing good level of vitamin C may also aid in absorption of iron by the body. Citrus fruits, lemon juice, amla juices and orange juices may also help in iron absorption.

Benefits of iron:

  • Iron deficiency anemia: Iron is helpful in the treatment of severe disorder called iron deficiency anemia, which results due to lack of adequate amount of iron in human body.
  • Reduces Fatigue: Iron deficiency is a natural cause of fatigue since it is an important component of hemoglobin. So, the including iron in your diet keeps you fit and healthy.
  • Brain’s health: Development of brain is also one of the many benefits of iron. Since oxygen supply to blood is aided by iron and brain uses approximately 20% of the blood oxygen, iron is directly related to brain health and its functions.
  • ·       Improves concentration: As the oxygen carrying capacity of blood increases to the brain and other parts of the body it is seen that it increases the concentration level of the individual. Anemic child has low concentration capacity then child with optimum levels of iron. This has been proved by many studies.
  • Restless leg syndrome: Iron deficiency is one of the causes of the restless leg syndrome. It is seen that Lower level of iron in the blood is a major cause. So supplementing iron with proper consultation with the physician can help solve this issue.
  • Optimum muscle health: Iron is a vital element for muscle. It is present in the muscle tissues and helps in supply of oxygen required for contraction of muscles.
  • Formation of hemoglobin: Formation of hemoglobin is the main function of iron. Being a part of hemoglobin, it gives the dark red shade to the blood and also aids in transporting oxygen to the body cells.
  • Immune system: Iron also plays a key role in providing strength to the immune system of human body. Thus, the body is made effecient enough to fight against a number of diseases and infections.

Other health benefits:2

  • For anemia
  • For exhaustion and fatigue
  • For immune system
  • For protein metabolism
  • For respiratory system
  • For skin tone
  • For energy and mental acuity
  • For normal growth and development

Deficiency Symptoms:

  • Fatigue, body weakness & related health ailments.
  • People with lack of iron cannot perform normal functions to their best abilities.
  • Women and children need more iron than the male counterparts.
  • A person with low iron level is likely to be anemic.
  • Severe iron deficiency may cause progressive skin ailments that may cause brittleness of nails and extra smoothness in tongue area.

To treat iron deficiency it’s very important to take help of your physician and also your nutritionist who can guide you. Excess iron intake can cause constipation and diarrhea. It can also accelerate ageing, and increase the risk of heart disease and viral infection. Supplements are available to overcome this deficiency.


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RD Neha Kava

National Registered Dietitian at
Neha Kava is a National Certified Registered Dietitian in India. She likes to share her knowledge about daily health, nutritition and diet tips. You can contact her on

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