Iron plays various important functions in the body as follows:
Iron is an important nutrient that is necessary for respiration and metabolism.
The hemoglobin found in red blood cells contains two-thirds of the body’s iron. Hemoglobin helps in the transport of oxygen to various parts of the body.
Iron is required for the immune system to fight off diseases. It is also involved in DNA synthesis and the electron transport chain.
Iron is stored in the body in the form of heme groups. In addition, some 25% of iron is stored in cells as ferritin.
Iron in the body is constantly utilized for various purposes. It is not synthesized in the body and hence needs to be taken in through diet. The balance of iron that has been up taken, transported, stored, and utilized is known as iron homeostasis. There are no mechanisms to excrete iron in the body. Hence, the regulation of iron occurs mostly during its absorption. Some iron is lost through the shedding of cells from the skin and mucosal surfaces. In menstruating women, the average daily iron loss is 2mg more than the other adults.
The deficiency of iron in the diet will cause anemia.
Iron Absorption Mechanism
Iron is absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut. It can be absorbed either in the form of heme or in nonheme forms such as ferrous ions (Fe2+) and ferric ions (Fe3+). The bioavailability of heme, found in abundance in meat, poultry, and seafood, is the highest. Among the nonheme form of iron, Fe2+ shows higher bioavailability. In normal pH conditions, however, Fe2 ions are converted to insoluble Fe3 form. Therefore, it makes it difficult to absorb iron. The difficulty is surpassed in the proximal duodenum of the intestine, where the gastric juices from the stomach lower the pH value. Thus, it enhances the bioavailability of iron for absorption. Certain drugs, such as Prilosec, are acid pump inhibitors and can reduce the absorption of iron. Various mechanisms of how iron gets transported into the bloodstream have been proposed. It involves a binding protein, such as mucin, that helps transport iron into the cell lining of the stomach, across the cell membrane. Once inside the cells, they are transferred to other cells through circulating transferrin proteins. Numerous dietary factors influence iron absorption. Some, such as citric acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), increase iron absorption into the mucosal lining. At the same time, compounds like tannins and phytates (found in non-herbal teas and some cereals) inhibit the absorption of iron. Lead is taken up through the same machinery as iron absorption. It can, however, block iron absorption by inhibiting the pathway through competition. Lead consumption thus becomes a major reason for anemia in young children.
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