Iron is a trace mineral required for red blood cell formation and adequate formation of hemoglobin - the protein that carries oxygen in the blood and myoglobin, a similar protein that carries oxygen in the muscle tissue. Iron also plays a central role in many vital biochemical pathways and enzyme systems including those involved with energy metabolism, neurotransmitter production (serotonin and dopamine), collagen formation and immune system function. The highest iron requirements are generally found in normally menstruating women. Young children, adult men and elderly women probably do not require supplemental iron in their diets and should consult their physician before taking iron supplements (due to the risk of iron overload – see below). Good food sources of iron are liver and other organ meats, red meat like beef, beans and peas. The form of iron found in meats is called heme iron, and is much more bioavailable (absorbable) than the type of iron (non-heme) found in plants. The non-heme iron found in beans and peas, however, can be made more absorbable by eating foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruit or tomatoes.
-Increased oxygen transport
-Enhanced exercise capacity
-Stimulates immune system
-Increased energy levels
Because iron is a crucial component of the oxygen carrying proteins (hemoglobin in blood and myoglobin in heart and skeletal muscle) and because iron functions as part of several enzymes involved in energy metabolism, much of the theory for iron supplements concerns energy levels and ability to perform work.
Only about 20% of American women consume the daily recommendation for iron (about 65% of men get enough). Endurance athletes engaged in heavy training almost certainly have an elevated iron requirement due to inadequate intake and excessive losses. Iron can be found in virtually every general purpose multi-mineral supplement – but check the labels (some products have less iron for older folks or to lessen the gastrointestinal upset that iron can sometime cause).
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