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IRON - Is an essential mineral. It is part of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the blood. Iron-deficient people tire easily in part because their bodies are starved for oxygen. Iron is also part of myoglobin, which helps muscle cells store oxygen. Without enough iron, adenosine triphosphate (ATP; the fuel the body runs on) cannot be properly synthesized. As a result, some iron-deficient people become fatigued even when their hemoglobin levels are normal (i.e., when they are not anemic).
Although iron is part of the antioxidant enzyme catalase, iron is not generally considered an antioxidant, because too much iron can cause oxidative damage. The most absorbable form of iron, called “heme” iron, is found in oysters, meat and poultry, and fish. Non-heme iron is also found in these foods, as well as in dried fruit, molasses, leafy green vegetables, wine, and iron supplements. Acidic foods (such as tomato sauce) cooked in an iron pan can also be a source of dietary iron.
Vegetarians eat less iron than non-vegetarians, and the iron they eat is somewhat less absorbable. As a result, vegetarians are more likely to have reduced iron stores. However, iron deficiency is not usually caused by a lack of iron in the diet alone. An underlying cause, such as iron loss in menstrual blood, often exists. Pregnant women, marathon runners, people who take aspirin, and those who have parasitic infections, hemorrhoids, ulcers, ulcerative colitis, crohn’s disease, gastrointestinal cancers, or other conditions that cause blood loss or malabsorption are likely to become deficient.
Infants living in inner city areas may be at increased risk of iron-deficiency anemia and suffer more often from developmental delays as a result. Supplementation of infant formula with iron up to 18 months of age in inner city infants has been shown to prevent iron-deficiency anemia and to reduce the decline in mental development seen in such infants in some, but not all, studies.
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