The Importance Of Iron And Risks Of Overdose

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Thanks to the recent public campaigns against iron deficiency that now we at least know that every fourth kid in Pakistan is deficient in iron. What’s mind-boggling and alarming is that many of us still don’t know what iron is let alone the importance of iron.

For starters, let me tell you that iron is one of the most important nutrients you need throughout your life. It helps you perform the daily functions and even a slight deficiency can be noticed in one’s performance level. If you think that iron deficiency is an issue only in childhood then can not be any more wrong. Iron is important in all stages of life and a deficiency can cause severe complications even in adults.

Read more about iron deficiency. 

The Recommended Intake

The recommended intake of iron is different for every age group and gender. Women generally require more iron than men. Children from the age of 1-8 years require 7-8 mg of iron. Males after the age of 8 require up to 11mg of iron. In the case of females, the iron requirements differ with age.

Following are the RDA of iron for women after the age of 8.

  • 9 to 13 years: 8 mg
  • 14 to 18 years: 15 mg
  • 19 to 50 years: 18 mg
  • 51 years and older: 8 mg
  • During pregnancy: 27 mg
  • When lactating between 14 and 18 years of age: 10 mg
  • When lactating at older than 19 years: 9 mg

The Importance Of Iron

The importance of iron is marked by it being an essential component of the protein hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is needed by the body to transport oxygen in the blood. Iron is also an essential component of the protein myoglobin. Myoglobin is an oxygen-storing protein present in the muscles. The oxygen stored here is used when the muscles are under work. Although these two roles are enough to prove the importance of iron, there is a lot more.

Performing these two main functions iron proves its importance by helping in the following aspects.

Maintains A Healthy pregnancy

When you are not pregnant, you need your blood to supply oxygen to only your own body. On the other hand, while being pregnant, the load of supplying oxygen drastically increases on the blood because now it is supposed to supply oxygen to the growing fetus too. The more the demand is for oxygen the more the blood needs to carry. To meet this increased demand for oxygen, you need more iron than usual. This will help the hemoglobin bind more oxygen and supply it more efficiently.

While the body typically maximizes iron absorption during pregnancy, insufficient iron intake or other factors affecting the way iron is absorbed, can lead to iron deficiency. Iron deficiency in pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and impaired cognitive and behavioral development in the baby. This also makes the mother more prone to disease and infection by weakening the immune system, as iron plays an essential role in maintaining a strong immune system.

There is no other way to get the required amount of iron during pregnancy, than the typical route of supplements. Your doctor is likely to recommend iron supplements even if you are not deficient. It is argued that all pregnant women should take 30 to 60 milligrams (mg) of iron supplements every day of their pregnancy, regardless of their iron levels.

Gives You Energy

Oxygen is crucial for mental and physical performance. As iron plays the essential role of carrying oxygen to the brain and muscles, it is of utmost importance in maintaining adequate energy in the body. This is particularly important in children and athletes, as both have a higher energy requirement due to ti greater physical activity. Iron deficiency is most common in female athletes.

Iron deficiency in children can be easily diagnosed. If you notice increased irritability, lack of focus, reduced stamina, and lethargy in your child, it’s time to get their iron levels checked.

Improves Cognitive Function

The level of iron has a direct impact on one’s cognitive ability. Iron is essential for cognitive function including, concentration, memory, learning, and problem-solving. Your brain will perform at its best if your body has enough iron in its system. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can cause lifelong cognitive issues in the infant. Enough iron levels can easily compensate for your need to drink coffee after every two hours.

Improves Immunity

The importance of iron can be proven by the fact that it is one of the most important nutrients required to maintain a healthy immune system. It basically helps the creation and growth of cells. It is essential for the maturation and proliferation of the immune cells. Iron works in favor of the lymphocytes; the cells associated with the general immune response to infection and disease.

Read more about nutrients that will boost your immunity. 

Risks Of Iron Overdose

Much like iron deficiency, iron overdose can be harmful too. It is rare to get an overdose through food, but fortified foods and iron supplements can lead to toxicity.

A study shows that even deadly overdoses are possible with excessive and unmonitored intakes of iron supplements. Iron toxicity is common in people with a disease called hemochromatosis. This condition is marked by a gene that enhances iron absorption. An overload can also occur due to metabolic disorders, repeated blood transfusions, and an iron-rich diet along with supplements.

Although the importance of iron can not be undermined, too much iron can form large deposits in the liver and other body tissues. This can lead to diabetes, liver damage, and heart disease.

The bottom line is that it is best to avoid taking iron supplements without consulting a nutritionist first. What you can do on your own is, to eat iron-rich foods and possibly iron-fortified foods, as both can rarely lead to an overdose.


1. What are some iron-rich foods?

Meat, spinach, beans, and seafood are rich in iron.

2. What is the best iron supplement?

This is to be decided by your doctor, depending on your needs and current blood iron levels.

3. What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?

The common symptoms of iron deficiency are lethargy, dizziness, lack of focus, reduced stamina, and irritability.

4. How to treat iron-deficiency anemia?

The best way to treat iron-deficiency anemia has been explained below.

Book an appointment now, to answer all your queries. You can book an appointment with top nutritionists in Pakistan through Marham by calling at Marham helpline: 0311-1222398 or by online appointment booking facility through the website or Marham mobile app.

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Hiba Batool
She is a nutrition graduate from Kinnaird College, Lahore. She is a nutritionist by profession. Her interests lie in medical research and writing. She masters in all topics related to nutrition and health.