Iron is best known as the mineral that is required for incorporation into haemoglobin in the blood. Most people know that you get iron deficiency anaemia when you are short of iron and that doctors give supplements of ferrous sulphate to overcome this problem. The erosion of iron status that happens in these cases takes place gradually without the person noticing anything at first. Only gradually does the person notice a growing lassitude, listlessness, weakness, fatigue and perhaps a shortness of breath. Others may notice that the person’s skin is pale. Occasionally there may be palpitations upon exertion. There is likely to be reduced capacity to work, impaired intellectual performance and adverse behaviour effects. One may protect against this effect by taking iron salts at a far lower intake than most doctors use for treatment. Also, organic salts like gluconate are much user-friendlier than ferrous sulphate that can irritate the stomach. Iron occurs in four main compartments in the body, the blood haemoglobin, the body iron stores in the liver and elsewhere and tissue and serum iron. The body stores become low before any anaemia appears. Low tissue or serum iron also produce clear effects and these levels do not always run in tandem with the other compartments. Focusing only upon haemoglobin iron has made the popular image of iron one that includes little other nutritional effect. But this is quite wrong. Iron is present in much more minor quantities throughout the body cells where it has an essential catalytic and enzymic role just like most of the other microminerals. It is particularly important in the oxidative stages of tissue respiration and it is therefore linked to cell energy production. This means that tissue deficiency (which may result from low serum iron) produces symptoms of its own. Common symptoms unrelated to haemoglobin include loss of appetite, sore tongue, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea, nausea and, in particular, gastric distress, leading to discomfort in the upper mid-stomach area. Infants may suffer from gastritis inflammation in the stomach), inability to produce hydrochloric acid and loss of the stomach lining. There may also be skin lesions, pimples and boils, dim vision, flaccid muscles which tire easily, insomnia, giddiness, fast pulse, heart murmurs, headaches, and a tingling of the ‘pins and needles’ type in the fingers and toes. Poor resistance to infection and poor temperature control are also likely. >>Source

Uses in the body: carries oxygen around the body, important for hair health, needed for metabolism of B vitamins, calcium and copper, boosts immune function.

Signs of deficiency: anaemia, brittle nails, tiredness, muscle ache, headache, faintness, hair loss, digestive problems often linked to low levels of stomach acid.

Therapeutic uses: fatigue and weakness, PMS, hair loss, poor nails. Important for breastfeeding women, vegans and vegetarians (iron from plant sources isn’t always absorbed easily) and coffee drinkers (caffeine severely affects iron absorption if taken within an hour of eating).

Dietary sources: blackstrap molasses, cocoa, wholegrains, liver, kidney, egg yolk, shellfish, nuts, soya produce, dark green vegetables, dried fruit.

Recommended daily allowance: 14 mg
Typical therapeutic daily dose: 14mg to 50mg (in the long term, doses of around 15mg are best; in the short term, higher doses may be given under supervision)
Daily intake shouldn’t normally exceed: 15mg

Cautions: doses above 50mg can cause stomach upset, constipation and blackened stools. Not suitable for people with iron absorption problems (haemochromatosis) and certain types of cancer. Seek professional advice from a practitioner.

Best taken: with vitamin C, to aid absorption and prevent constipation, and at least one hour before coffee consumption. Don’t take with other minerals, especially zinc, which affect absorption. Liquid iron formulas are often best absorbed by people with weak digestion.