Our Need For Iron

“Iron is a metal so essential that without it…plants would wither and die; animals and human beings would suffocate.” Iron Disorders Institute Guide to Anemia 2nd edition Cumberland House an Imprint of SourceBooks


Our Need For Iron

Iron is so important that without it all life would cease to exist. Every living thing: plants, animals, human beings, bacteria (good and bad), even cancer cells all need iron to survive and grow. Plants require iron to make chlorophyll, which is necessary for growth and generating oxygen for people to breathe. Plants, animals, and human beings require iron to make DNA, which encodes all life. Animals and humans also need iron to make hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to the body. Iron also carries carbon dioxide out of the body, which plants need to function.

Humans also need iron to make myoglobin in muscles. Myoglobin is a protein like hemoglobin, except that it is an oxygen storage protein contained in muscles of the body. We call upon the oxygen stored in myoglobin when we use our muscles to walk, run, climb or move in any way.

Once the iron is consumed, many iron balancing systems are in place to make certain that we get just enough. Some people are born with iron balancing systems that do not work right. These people can absorb too much iron from the diet.  When this happens, iron collects in organs such as the liver, heart, joints, pancreas and pituitary causing these organs to function poorly or not to work at all.

There are also people who do not have enough iron. This is because they have poor diets, or they cannot absorb iron very well, or they lose a lot of blood (accidents, monthly period, surgery, or disease) or they cannot make or destroy red blood cells normally. These people become iron deficient and some become anemic. Some can develop anemia with iron overload.

It is critical that we have enough iron available at certain stages of life when we are growing rapidly. Children who are deficient in iron during these important stages can have lower IQ’s, problems with concentration and their body may not develop like others their age. On the other hand, iron can be so deadly that 250 milligrams can poison a small child.

Finally, there are people who have inherited conditions or need lots of blood transfusions to survive. The blood transfusions contain a lot of iron. The body cannot get rid of excess iron except through blood loss. Without treatment, these patients can develop iron overload, become very sick and possibly die.

Read more about genetics, iron overload, blood transfusions, therapy for iron overload or iron deficiency.

Next page: what is iron?

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