Iron is an important mineral that plays a role in the body’s muscle development, metabolism, cell function and growth. In the developed world, a deficiency in this essential nutrient is rare for most individuals since it is often found in a variety of foods. While iron is crucial for many bodily functions, it can also be detrimental to one’s health. In particular, it has a complicated relationship with diabetes that scientist are only now beginning to understand. We’ll cover the details of iron’s connection with this disease in today’s post, while also providing a brief overview of this important mineral.
To start, establishing guidelines for iron intake can be tricky, since they largely depend on an individual’s gender, diet and health. However, there are still a few general numbers one can keep in mind when trying to assess their daily requirement:
Adult Males (19-50): 8 mg
Adult females (19-50): 18 mg
Pregnant adult females: 27 mg
Lactating adult females: 9 mg
*If vegetarian or vegan, multiply the recommended daily value by 1.8
As we mentioned before, most of us get enough iron simply through dietary means. However, there are certain individuals which are at higher risk for a deficiency than others. In particular, infants, children, teenaged girls, pregnant women and premenopausal women should have their irons levels assessed regularly. Vegetarians and vegans will also need to consume around 1.8 times the standard daily recommended values, since their intake of this mineral comes from plant sources which are not as potent as their animal counterparts. Even though on paper some of them may seem to contain more iron than most meats, many grains, vegetables and fruits contain compounds which inhibit the effective absorption of this nutrient into the body.
While rare in the developed world, iron deficiencies can lead to serious health problems if not treated. For adults symptoms include impaired immune function, decreased cognitive abilities and poor body temperature regulation. In children, a lack of this mineral can be even more serious since it can result in the development of learning disabilities.
In order to prevent the occurrence of iron deficiencies, individuals should look to consuming foods rich in this nutrient. Good choices for this include liver, beef, oysters, white beans, lentils, spinach, dark chocolate (45%–69% cacao solids) and tofu. Although iron supplements exist, they are usually only recommended for individuals that already have a deficiency, or who have trouble absorbing the mineral through dietary means.
While this nutrient is important, too much of it can be dangerous for the body as well. An excess of iron can lead to nausea, vomiting, and general gastric discomfort, while in more severe cases it can result in organ failure, convulsions and even death. Adults in general should never get more than 45 mg of this mineral on a daily basis.
Iron has also had a controversial relationship with diabetes that has only started to be understood in recent years. It is now speculated that an overabundance of iron could be a factor in the development of diabetes type 2. This is because this mineral, while important for the body, in excess causes damage to the tissues and cells. In particular, iron seems to damage beta cells in the pancreas which are responsible for the production of insulin. While more research still needs to be done, those at risk for developing diabetes should be cautious about their intake of this mineral, especially when it comes to supplements.