January 2001

Iron is a mineral that is essential to life itself. The bulk of iron in the human body is in the red blood cells' hemoglobin; in fact, it is what makes blood red. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body. Without iron, hemoglobin cannot do its job. Another compound, myoglobin, grabs iron from hemoglobin and stores it in muscles where it is crucial to proper muscle function. While hemoglobin is on its way to the lungs, its iron carries carbon dioxide, which we then expel as we exhale. Iron is part of the chemical makeup of several vital enzymes and proteins and plays a major role in energy metabolism. As important as iron is in the body for good health, there are some misconceptions held by the general public about iron. Let us explain. All dietary iron as we say at Better Life is not created equal. There are two basic types of iron: Heme Iron which is easily absorbed by the body and accounts for 40 percent of the iron found in meats; and Non-Heme Iron which is found in plant-based foods and is not as readily absorbed. If the body is to assimilate iron properly, it needs vitamin C. Certain other compounds block the body's ability to absorb iron such as antacids, dietary fiber, calcium, coffee, and tea.

How well the body absorbs iron depends on many factors. Insufficient levels of vitamin C, antacids, high-fiber or oxalate-rich foods, coffee, or tea can affect the body's ability to absorb iron. Note: children who display symptoms of ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may have a lack of iron in their bodies and blood stream. A child's brain acts and reacts to an iron deficiency quickly. Any child displaying symptoms of ADD or ADHD, should be tested by a physician for anemia. On the other hand, adults display iron deficiency by appearing apathetic, seeming to tire easily, lacking motivation and having difficulty getting through the day without "pooping out." An iron deficiency is usually defined as a dwindling reserve of iron in the body, and anemia refers specifically to reduced levels of hemoglobin in the blood. With less iron present, the blood cells can't ferry sufficient oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. Symptoms of anemia include extreme fatigue, overall weakness, headaches, apathy, and pallor. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should see a physician for advice and a blood test before incorporating extra iron into their diets.

New studies conducted at Harvard University and in Finland suggest that the majority of normal adults are more likely to get too much iron than too little. This iron overload increases the risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer, particularly cancer of the colon. The excess iron bonds with free radicals that damage cells and increases the risk of cancer. Studies with mice show that the more iron they eat, the faster their cancers grow. Most nutritionists agree that if you are healthy and eating a well-balanced diet and taking vitamin and mineral food supplements, there is no need for additional iron supplements. Pregnant women are the exception to this rule. They should follow the guidelines of their physicians, since iron is very important for their bodies and of utmost importance for the fetus. Some biomedical researchers are suggesting that people eat less red meat, exercise regularly, and become blood donors. The blood letting of early medicine, they believe, wasn't such a bad idea after all, as it does lower iron levels.
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