The body needs iron, a trace mineral, to produce red blood cells. Iron is found in every cell in the human body, mostly combined with protein. The haemoglobin molecule, which is essential for carrying oxygen around our system, contains 60% to 70% of the body's iron. If we don't get enough iron, we produce less haemoglobin and in turn, less oxygen goes to our tissues. Iron is also stored in the bone marrow, liver and spleen. Iron tablets can be used to supply extra iron for haemoglobin production.
Iron tablets may be beneficial for anyone who is iron deficient. Iron deficiency is more common in women than in men due to the female menstrual cycle. It is also more common in infants, children, adolescents, vegetarians and in women during pregnancy. Older people may also be iron deficient due to poor absorption and bad diet. Pre menopausal women need 18 mg of iron a day, but studies suggest more than 25% of women get less than this. Men and post menopausal women only need around 10 mg a day.
Although there are many vegetable sources of iron, this is a non-heme form which is poorly absorbed and used by the body. Heme iron is only found in meat, with beef and liver being the best sources. A combination of heme and non-heme foods improves absorption from the non-heme foods. Vegetarians may have difficulty obtaining the optimum daily recommended amounts of iron from food alone, so iron supplements may be necessary.
Iron deficiency is also common during pregnancy as a foetus needs around 7 mg to 8 mg per day. The average diet normally only contains around 15 to 20 mg a day so supplements can be useful. One of the signs of iron deficiency may be morning sickness, possibly due to lower levels of oxygen being delivered to the cells.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with anaemia would benefit from taking iron supplements. Anemia is defined as a reduction in the number of red blood cells in the body and the reduced oxygen-carrying capability of the blood. This can be due to lack of iron in the diet, or poor iron absorption. Parasites may also cause anaemia. It is important to see a doctor to get to the root cause. Taking iron tablets may help over time, but it is important to rule out any other serious illnesses, such as internal bleeding or uterine fibroids.