Iron is an essential trace mineral which most forms of life are dependent on. This includes plants, animals and humans. Iron is found in the earth, water, plants and animal flesh. There are two types of iron known as heme and non-heme. The heme iron is only found in animal flesh, and the non-heme iron can also be found in animal flesh, as well as in plants, the earth and water.
What Does Iron Do?
Iron is what helps plants to create chlorophyll, which helps the plants to grow and to create oxygen so that humans and animals can breathe. It is essential for the formation of DNA in plants, animals and humans.
Once iron is absorbed into the body, it helps to create hemoglobin which is a protein molecule in red blood cells. It distributes the oxygen from the lungs throughout the body to muscle tissues and bones. Hemoglobin also draws carbon dioxide from cell tissues and removes it from the body.
Iron also creates an oxygen storage protein, which is stored in the muscle cells until it is needed for exercise or any type of body movement. This is why an iron deficiency may cause you to fatigue easily, as there is not enough stored oxygen in your muscles.
How Is Iron Absorbed?
Iron is absorbed into plants by the root systems from the earth and water. From there, it is absorbed by animals and humans. The food enters the stomach, where the acids change the iron so that it can be absorbed into the body. Non-heme iron, which comes from plants, must be changed first, and therefore is not as easily absorbed into the body as heme iron.
It is interesting to note that a healthy person only absorbs about 20 to 25 percent of heme iron which enters the body. This is because the body only needs very small amounts of iron each day in order to function at its best. Once it has stored the amount that it needs, it simply stops absorbing, and any excess iron is excreted through bowel movements.
An iron deficiency can occur when not enough iron is absorbed into the body, or when blood is lost during menstruating periods or childbirth. If the iron is not restored, it can lead to anemia. The symptoms of anemia include fatigue, paleness, weakness, headaches, rapid or irregular heart beat and fainting. If you have problems with absorbing iron, you may want to add more vitamin C to your diet, as it will help to better absorb the iron.
It rarely happens that you will absorb excess amounts of iron from your diet, as it is more likely to happen if you are taking iron supplements. Too much iron can collect in the liver, heart, pancreas and joints causing them to malfunction.
Foods High in Iron
If you are healthy, you should be able to absorb all your iron from your diet. The best sources of iron are animal meats, especially red meat, liver, poultry, eggs and fish. You can also obtain iron from a plant based diet, such as spinach and other leafy green vegetables, nuts, dried beans, dried apricots, raisins and tofu.