Importance of Iron In The Human Body

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Iron is vital in the production of red blood cells, important in transporting oxygen to different parts of the body. They're also important in converting blood sugar to energy and regulating certain antioxidants. Iron plays a key role in immunity, metabolism and cognitive function. Include meat, seafood, spinach and beans to your diet to maintain optimum iron levels.

Over 70 percent of iron in the body is present in the bloodstream in the form of red blood cells. It is vital in the formation of hemoglobin and also aids other important body functions.

Importance of Iron in the Human Body


Iron is required to produce major blood cellular components, especially red blood cells and maintain blood circulation in the system.

Oxygen Transportation

Hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein in red blood cells is in charge of transporting oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body. Iron is important to maintain oxygen levels in the body. Lack of iron reduces hemoglobin, which in turn deprives vital organs and parts of oxygen causing cell death.


Lack of iron makes cells resistant to insulin and prevents the conversion of blood sugar into energy. This signals the body that there might be a lack of insulin and increases insulin production. High insulin along with lack of blood sugar conversion both contribute to heart disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity risk.

Antioxidants and Immunity

Certain antioxidants like catalase and peroxidase depend heavily on iron supply to work effectively against free radicals. Iron also affects cytokine production in cells, especially lymphocyte cytokines which are an important part of the immune system.1

Cognitive Function

The brain consists of neurons, which are responsible for message relaying and cognitive function. Myelin, a protective sheath that covers neurons and ensures optimum neural activity, relies on iron for synthesis during myelination (creation of myelin sheaths that occurs at a neonatal stage). This sheath acts as a channel that allows rapid and efficient transmission of nerve impulses, thereby aiding cognitive function. Iron helps maintain the integrity of this sheath and has also shown to help repair damaged myelin sheaths. This contributes to maintaining cognitive function and preventing any neurological degeneration.2

Lack of iron can reduce oxygen supply to the brain. This is vital because the brain requires slightly more oxygen than other parts of the body and cannot work at its optimum otherwise. Lack of hemoglobin will also induce oxidative stress of brain cells and gradually lead to cell death.3

Side Effects Of Excess Iron

While iron is healthy for the body, an excess can back fire. Excess iron deposits can release iron ions that can cause oxidative stress through the formation of oxygen free radicals. These radicals are strong agents of peroxidation and can damage lipids in cell membranes, leading to cell death. This type of iron induced oxidation has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Excess iron deposits do not generally occur as the body uses it in one way or another. But excess deposition in the basal ganglia (where iron is generally deposited) occurs when there is a disorder of sorts, mostly a basal ganglia disorder. This disorder is based on several prenatal and neonatal factors and causes your system to deposit iron instead of using it for bodily functions. Signs of excess iron are similar to those of iron deficiency, as both contribute to neurological damage through cell oxidation. This sort of deposition increases as you age and adds to the other aspects of neurological damage, leaving you more prone to diseases of the category.

Signs and Causes of Iron Deficiency

Deficiency of iron can cause chronic fatigue, weakness, dizziness, inability to concentrate, headaches, depression, sore tongue, increased sensitivity to cold, shortness of breath and restless leg syndrome.

Lack of iron rich foods as part of your daily diet and low iron absorption are the most common reasons for deficiency. Iron deficiency can also happen due to loss of excess blood (such as during heavy menstruation), excessive blood donation, fibroids and digestive tract infection or disease. Certain medications can also restrict iron absorption or cause depletion.

Pregnant women, children and the elderly are more prone to iron deficiency than others. This is because, during pregnancy, iron is used extensively in forming vital aspects of the foetus. For growing children, the demand of iron may increase over time but the diet in most cases, contains only a particular amount of iron. Elderly men/ women naturally lose iron through metabolism and may require supplements to prevent deficiency. This loss is natural as iron depletes with age, so does the absorption power of the digestive tract.

How To Maintain Your Iron Levels

Iron is not excreted from the body but lost through the skin or internal pathways like the digestive and urinary tract. The average amount lost per day is about 14 µg/kg of body weight.

Children below the age of 10 don’t require much so 8-10 mg/day will do. Between 11-15 mg/day is ideal for teenage boys while men are advised to limit to a max of 18 mg/day. Women who are 14+ should consume around the same but pregnant women are advised to consume 25-27 mg/day.

Include iron rich foods like spinach, beans, dry fruits, broccoli, wheat germ, prunes and peaches to your daily diet. Consume a fair amount of meat and seafood as well, they’re rich in iron and are absorbed better by the body than plant based iron.


References   [ + ]

1.Jason, J., et al. “The effects of iron deficiency on lymphocyte cytokine production and activation: preservation of hepatic iron but not at all cost.”Clinical & Experimental Immunology 126.3 (2001): 466-473
2.Todorich, Bozho, et al. “Oligodendrocytes and myelination: the role of iron.”Glia 57.5 (2009): 467-478.
3.Meneghini, Rogerio. “Iron homeostasis, oxidative stress, and DNA damage.”Free Radical Biology and Medicine 23.5 (1997): 783-792.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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