Bet that thought has never really surfaced in your mind very much, if at all. In this world of vitamins and minerals, organic or not, we, as women usually think of iron as something we have do, reluctantly.

In years past, Geritol and iron poor blood was a “catch phrase” we used to tease our friends about getting old. However, today, we do not even think about it or even relate our health to, too much iron in our systems or too little iron.

What is the purpose of iron in our bodies? Iron is an important nutrient for your health and body. Iron helps your cells “breathe.” It is essential for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen to other cells. It is an important component of myoglobin (a protein that helps supply oxygen to your muscles), it is a component of collagen (a protein in bone, cartilage and other connective tissues) and is a part of many enzymes.

Iron helps build new tissue and is very important in helping your brain develop early in life and helps your brain work its best throughout your life. Without iron you will feel tired and not have energy to do much of anything, a lack of iron may lower a child’s ability to learn and your ability later in life to remember things.

Iron is an essential mineral you must have for good health every day of your life.

Where does iron come from? Iron is best found in the foods we eat every day. Good sources of iron are lean red meats such as beef, lamb and venison, organ meats such as liver, oysters, clams, plus beans, whole grains and cooked greens. Even breads and cereals that are not whole grains are iron-fortified. To boost iron absorption from plant sources, include fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C during the same meal.

Cooking in iron or stainless steel pots can increase iron consumption. Olive oil, and spices such as anise, caraway, cumin, licorice and mint also promote iron absorption. Excessive amounts of alcohol is associated with increased iron overload, especially in men.

And yes, you can get iron from supplements, but do not take those unless you have a blood test first to check your specific need, as you can get an iron overload, which can cause problems.

Can I have too much iron in my system? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” A resent landmark Nurse’s Health Study found that only three percent of postmenopausal women were iron depleted and those tend to be women who exercised a great deal, took an asprin a day, or had stopped menstruating recently. The study found that almost ten percent of the women in the survey had too much iron in their blood.

Iron can build up in the body from many different sources, eating too much iron rich foods, taking iron supplements, blood transfusions and a common cause is an inherited condition called hereditary hemochromatosis (he-mo-kro-ma-toe-sis).

What are the symptoms of too much iron? Iron overload occurs when the body absorbs too much iron over the years. Excess iron builds up in the organs like the liver and heart and is stored in your tissues.

Some of the signs are:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen, stiff or painful joints
  • Diabetes
  • Hair loss
  • Arthritis
  • Lack of sex drive

    Advanced stages of iron overload may also include liver diseases such as an enlarged liver, cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure.

    How do you lower your iron overload? An aspirin a day taken to prevent heart attacks and strokes causes a blood loss of about a tablespoon a day via the digestive tract. This helps iron loss. Exercise causes a person to lose about one milligram of iron through sweating. Fasting and vegetarian diets limit iron consumption.

    There are medications that can be taken, one of which is phytic acid (not the phytic acid found in foods or bran, but a supplement derived from rice bran extract). This is taken between meals so that it will not bind to minerals in the digestive tract and is absorbed into the bloodstream where is acts as a iron and mineral chelator. However, one of the best treatments is donating your blood to the local blood bank. The old fashioned idea of “blood letting” is being done the new way. It seems as the body replenishes iron-containing red blood cells it borrows iron stored in the tissues of the body. By repetition (giving blood often) you reduce the amount of iron stored in your body and soon you will feel better.

    Can I have too little iron in my body? The answer to that is also a loud “yes.” Iron deficiency anemia is usually treated with a diet change (as noted above) and supplements. In serious cases there is even a faster method with intravenous infusions, which would deliver iron faster and prevent the gastrointestinal side effects many suffer from while taking supplements.

    What are the symptoms of low iron in the body? Too little iron also makes a person feel fatigued along with these other symptoms:

  • Foggy thinking and memory loss
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hair loss
  • Need to eat ice
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Headaches

    What causes an iron deficiency? As women age and enter perimenopause, we usually have heavier periods and this can lead to a loss of iron. However, there are many other causes such as:

  • Blood loss, either from disease, injury or frequent donating
  • Poor diet – low fat diets, diets high in sugars, high fiber diets
  • Not being able to absorb the iron in the diet
  • A bleeding ulcer, colon polyp, colon cancer
  • Hookworm infection
  • Intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
  • Prescription medicines that reduce acid in the stomach
  • Author's Bio: 

    Audrey is the author of many articles on health and pets. She currently has a new book So! You Want To Get A Cat available in major book stores. Audrey also is the owner of the website www.cats-and-dogs-on-the-web.com and co-owner of www.healthyrenegade.com. She is a crusader for responsible pet ownership and as an active vital 76 year old has a keen interest in health and wellness for all.