Definition of iron
The chemical element iron has the atomic number 26 and the symbol Fe. Iron is a transition metal. It forms the 8th subgroup in the periodic table, the iron-platinum group. The atomic weight of iron is 55.8. After aluminum it is the most common metal and the fourth most common element in the earth’s crust. Iron belongs to the ferromagnetic elements. Iron can occur in a bivalent or trivalent form, Fe2+ or Fe3+. In its pure form, iron is not stable in the oxygen atmosphere and therefore forms divalent and trivalent oxides.
Function of iron in the body
Iron is contained in the protein hemoglobin (Hb). Hemoglobin is the most important component of red blood cells (erythrocytes). The erythrocytes carry the oxygen, previously bound by the iron, from the lungs to the body cells. The body is thus optimally supplied with oxygen if sufficient iron is present. Iron is also responsible for the formation of erythrocytes and hemoglobin.
Absorption of iron
The body absorbs iron through food. The body loses about 1-2 milligrams of iron per day and absorbs an average of 10-20 grams per day. However, since the body only absorbs about 5- 10% of the iron it takes in and the rest is excreted unused, it is important to make sure to eat food with a high iron content. At the same time, it is also important to avoid foods that inhibit the absorption of iron. It is also important to eat foods that promote the absorption of iron.
The intestine can absorb iron from meat better. Seafood, red meat, fish and offal are particularly rich in iron. But iron can also be found in plant foods. Legumes such as lentils, soybeans and chickpeas have a particularly high iron content. Vitamin C promotes the absorption of iron and should be taken together with iron-containing foods. Red wine, cola, coffee, tea, milk and cocoa have an iron-inhibiting effect. If iron deficiency is known, these foods should be avoided.
Iron – especially important for some groups of people
Iron is a real all-rounder. Through which a lack of iron can have some negative effects. Vegetarians, vegans, pregnant and menstruating women, athletes and adolescents should pay special attention to a sufficient supply of iron, as they have an increased need and are more often affected by iron deficiency.
Causes of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency can result from blood loss, for example, during menstruation or from frequent blood donations. An unbalanced diet can also be responsible for lower iron levels in the body. Since food must be broken down by the stomach lining in order to later absorb vitamins and nutrients in the intestines, a lack of stomach acid can also be the cause of iron deficiency. Disturbed intestinal flora and an inflamed intestinal mucosa can also prevent iron from being absorbed. Cholesterol-lowering drugs, stomach acid blockers, and acetylsalicylic acid are just a few of the drugs that have an iron-inhibiting effect on the body.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
Since iron has many roles in the body, the symptoms of iron deficiency are also varied. For example, outward symptoms often include pallor, hair loss and brittle fingernails. However, increased susceptibility to infections, restless legs syndrome, headaches, muscle tension in the neck and chronic fatigue can also be symptoms of iron deficiency. Often, iron deficiency also causes sleep disturbances, dizziness, poor concentration and depressive moods.
Suspicion of iron deficiency
If iron deficiency is suspected, a blood test at the doctor’s office can provide information on whether or not the symptoms are iron deficiency. The doctor measures the level of storage iron (serum ferritin). In men, a storage iron deficiency is below 30 µg/l, in women below 15 µg/l.
Preventing iron deficiency
The iron absorbed through food is often not sufficient for the body. Here, the additional intake of iron supplements can have a supporting effect and counteract iron deficiency. However, some of the common iron preparations are not well tolerated. Often these products lead to digestive problems.
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