Iron is one of the most abundant minerals on earth, and is essential to human life.  It helps transport oxygen around our body into cells where it’s needed to provide energy, for growth and development and for healthy immune function.  Iron also helps carry the waste product, carbon dioxide, back to the lungs.

How do I know if I’m deficient?

The most common symptom of deficiency is tiredness and lack of energy.  Other symptoms include paleness, weakened immune system and brittle nails.  However there are also many other reasons why these symptoms may occur so a simple blood test from your GP is the best way to confirm.

Do I need more iron in pregnancy?

Iron is particularly important during pregnancy, especially the second and third trimester, due to its role in DNA creation.  DNA, which is the genetic ‘blue print’ upon which all our cells are built, requires iron for development.  Iron is also required for protein metabolism, which further supports growth and development.

How much do I need?

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) and Upper Safe Limit (UL)

Women 19 – 50 years 18mg/day 45mg/day
Women 50 – 70 + years 8mg/day 45mg/day
Pregnancy RDI UL
14 + years 27mg/day 45mg/day
Lactation RDI UL
14 – 18 years 10mg/day 45mg/day
18 – 50 years 9mg/day 45mg/day

 

What are the best sources?

Good dietary sources of iron include

Liver                           Chicken                       Beef                            Oysters

Turkey                        Tuna                           Pork                            Fish

Soybeans                    Lentils                         Kidney beans             Molasses

Spinach                       Tofu

What about supplements?

The average Australian diet provides around 15 – 20mg of iron per day.   In times of increased need such as pregnancy, the body has the ability to absorb more iron from the diet to help support this increase need, however supplementation can also be beneficial to support healthy levels.  When choosing a supplement, it’s good to look for one, which also contains vitamin C and folate to support absorption and healthy foetal growth or a good prenatal multivitamin should provide a healthy dose of iron.  Supplementing between 10 – 25mg particularly during the second and third trimester is recommended to help support healthy development.  No more than the Upper Safe Limit (UL) of 45mg per day should be taken unless under medical supervision.

When it comes to choosing an iron supplement it’s not only important to look for the right dose, but also the right form of iron.  Chelated iron preparations are the easiest absorbed forms of iron (often listed as iron amino acid chelate) and can help reduce side effects such as nausea and constipation.

 What happens if I take too much?

As iron is so essential to human life, to help ensure levels never become deplete, our body actually has no means by which to excrete iron.  However, as a heavy metal, iron can also be potentially toxic, therefore uptake is tightly regulated by the body.  If iron stores are high, the body actively decreases the amount of iron absorbed.  Therefore toxicity via dietary sources is unlikely.  However this absorption process can’t be shut off entirely and stores can build up if excess supplemental iron is consumed.  Excessive amounts of iron in circulation can cause critical damage to vital cells in the liver, heart and other vital organs, so high dose supplementation is not recommended unless under medical supervision.


  • Thanks for your article which made many people happy in this household as we had an iron packed dinner last night; chicken and beef kebabs.

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  • Lucky for me; I do enjoy the foods that are good sources of iron. This makes it easy to include them in my diet.

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  • I have low iron so I can relate to this article.

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  • My doctor insists on a blood test every six months testing everything. I take a good general multi vitamin to top up and deficiency .

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  • Extremely informative. thanks heaps. xo

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  • I am one who has to watch I don’t consume too much iron because because of a hereditary disease called haemochromitosis.It is far more common in men but women can get it too. Your liver makes too much iron which your body can’t absorb or get rid of.. It can lead to heart problems and diabetes..It can be positively diagnosed by a liver biopsy if the illness is severe enough. Treatment is giving blood on a regular basis, sometimes large amounts requiring hospitalisation for recovery, other times you can go home if less is taken. You need to ensure you don’t eat much food which contains iron. My Grandma had a liver problem which was never actually diagnosed. My now deceased uncle had it very badly by the time it was diagnosed in the early to mid 1960s.He had to have a liver biopsy which is very painful and only done in severe cases of liver disease.He initially had blood taken very frequently and blood tests to check iron levels between treatments. He started having heart attacks and developed diabetes which made his diet even stricter. When it was controlled he didn’t have heart problems and his diabetes was stable and completely under control. My Mother also had a mild form of it. She didn’t have to undergo a biopsy. She had blood taken on a regular basis, usually a few months apart after the first couple of visits and a blood test just prior to every appt. to check levels. She was fortunate that it didn’t affect her heart, neither did she develop diabetes. She was also fortunate to see the specialist who had treated my Uncle several years before. Having the family history already recorded was a big advantage according to the specialist.
    When my Mum was pregnant with my brother she was on iron tablets because she lacked it and was able to stop taking them. She reckoned it was a case of going from one extreme to another…….So far I am showing no symptoms of it, but I do have insulin resistance that can become diabetes.

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  • My daughter is low in iron, thanks for this information, will try and boost the good foods in her diet. the 3 easiest are molasses, chicken and tuna, how about Brazil nuts, they are brilliant for your hair, do they have iron in them.

    another good iron rich drink is nettle tea, you can buy it at the health food shop and some chemists.
    Thank you

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  • Very informative, I’m going to up my iron levels after reading this article. Thank you, hopefully this is the reason for my tiredness.

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  • Double serve of spinach tonight.

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  • after reading this I dont think I am

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  • I’m a bit low on iron. I know because I get chilblains in winter!

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  • I think I need an iron supplement to give me some energy that I am always lacking

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  • I didn’t know Molasses was a good source of iron

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  • I didn’t know that I should be having extra iron while breastfeeding. Thanks for the info.

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  • Some great advice here, thanks for sharing this interesting read.

    Reply

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