How Much Iron Do We Need At What Levels Does Iron Become Toxic
Recommended Daily Allowance
There is no one single daily recommended allowance of iron for everyone at all stages of their lives. Because of this fact, many consumers may think that they should take the same amount of iron that they have always taken or take the same amount as a friend or relative. This may not be enough to suit their particular nutritional needs or it may be too much. Fortunately, there are many sources of dietary iron and no withdrawal symptoms to if a patient discovers that he or she is consuming too much iron.
America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a chart breaking down the differences in the daily recommended dosage of iron:
*Males over 19: 8 milligrams
*Male vegetarians: 14 mg
*Females 19 – 50: 18 mg
*Female vegetarians: 32 mg
*Females over 50: 8 mg
*Pregnant women: 27 mg
*Nursing women: 10 mg
*Newborns to 6 months: 0.27 mg
*Babies 7 12 months: 11 mg
*Children 1 – 3 years: 7 mg
*Children 4 8: 10 mg
*Children 9 13: 8 mg
*Children 14 19: 10 mg
This is only a rough guideline. Patients with particular illnesses, women with exceptionally heavy periods, individuals with vitamin C deficiencies or individuals who habitually consume beverages like tea that interfere with the body’s absorption may require a doctor to determine their daily levels. Some trial and error may be needed.
Why Bother with Iron?
Iron performs several functions in the body. Most importantly, it helps blood transport oxygen throughout the body. This is why it can be found in just about every cell of the human body. Oxygen and other chemicals help the cell absorb glucose (blood sugar), the cell’s fuel. Iron is also thought to play a significant role in the human immune system and in brain function. Although very few individuals can attract a magnet, all healthy individuals have minute portions of iron in their cells.
Patients with iron anemia (also called iron poor blood) feel exhausted all the time, despite how much sleep and exercise they obtain. Their skin is often pale or more pale than usual. They may feel as if a weight is on their lungs and complain of being faint or short of breath. Without the proper amounts of oxygen traveling through the bloodstream, the body does not have sufficient energy to work at maximum efficiency. Life for the iron anemic is dreary and overwhelming because of the fatigue. It takes a tremendous effort to even accomplish simple tasks.
Symptoms of iron anemia are very similar to those of other chronic conditions such as clinical depression and thyroid problems. Taking extra dietary iron will not help these conditions and will unnecessarily prolong the patient’s suffering. This is why it is important for anyone with these symptoms to go to a doctor for a blood test to obtain a proper diagnosis. Without a proper diagnosis, there cannot be proper treatment.
What is Dietary Iron?
Dietary iron is comprised of proteins and comes in two types called heme (found in hemoglobin in the blood) and non-heme (found in myoglobin, found in muscles and bones.) Dietary iron is marketed under the name ferrous sulfate, which is easily available in multivitamin supplements or iron sulfate supplements. But it is also abundant in multiple food sources. Vitamin C has been shown to help the body absorb iron more efficiently, thus eating foods rich in vitamin C or taking vitamin C supplements is highly recommended.
A common misconception is that meat is the superior source of iron from food. Larger quantities of iron can be found in similar size portions of porridge, oats and vitamin-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron may also be found in many vegetables, milk, eggs, beans, nuts, whole grains and some starchy foods such as grits. Many meal replacement powders, liquids and bars contain iron. Some beverages such as tap water may also contain ferrous sulfate.
Avoiding Iron Overdose
The human body is not an efficient absorber of iron. On average, the body only absorbs 10% of the iron it consumes. But iron overload is possible and can bring debilitating symptoms. Clifford S. Spanierman, MD of Lutheran General Hospital and a specialist in pediatrics and emergency medicine, estimates iron toxicity to be a major factor in the deaths of children under six years old. Dr. Spanierman speculates that children may take iron supplements in the mistaken belief that they are sweets.
Symptoms of iron overdose are dramatic, often including copious amounts of diarrhea and vomiting. Dr. Spanierman reports that if a patient can stay conscious and get to a hospital, the patient has an excellent chance of surviving. But if the patient becomes unconscious, the chances of recovery are very slim. In extreme cases, blood transfusions are needed in order to quickly clean the excess iron from the body. Dr. Spanierman added that women over 65 were also prone to iron overdose because they were not aware that their iron needs drop significantly after the completion of menopause.
A good general rule to avoid iron overdose is to avoid taking an iron supplement if not instructed to by a physician. Because of the dangers of iron overdose, it is never a good idea to self-diagnose one’s health problems.
Individuals can suffer if they do not have enough iron or die if they consume too much. Iron is easily available in the modern diet through natural foods, nutritional supplements and iron-fortified foods. Never guess as to the amount of iron to consume. Consult a physician with any questions.