10 health benefits of taking iron supplements

One of the world’s most common nutritional deficiency diseases is iron deficiency anaemia. Anaemia is prevalent among children and women and usually develops because of a lacking amount of iron in one’s regular diet or poor iron absorption within the body. 

Why is iron important?

Iron refers to an essential mineral that helps keep the blood healthy to be able to carry oxygen around the body properly. The essential mineral is required to produce healthy red blood cells and for proper haemoglobin function. 

Haemoglobin, a protein inside red blood cells, closely works with iron to move oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. It transfers oxygen in the blood to the tissues and organs and then takes carbon dioxide from the organs and tissues back to the lungs. The role of haemoglobin is very important for the body to function properly, as it also provides oxygen to the muscles and brain to support energy levels, influencing everyday physical and mental functions. 

When you have an inadequate level of iron, you may develop iron deficiency anaemia. People become susceptible to anaemia when they recently have an injury, blood loss, haemorrhage or gastrointestinal diseases that impair their iron absorption. Having inadequate nutrients within the body, including folate, protein and vitamin C, can also contribute to iron deficiency anaemia. One way to prevent yourself from being anaemic is by taking iron supplements. Check out the following ten primary health benefits of iron supplementation. 

1. Boost haemoglobin

Iron‘s core function is to carry oxygen in the blood through haemoglobin. The more iron you have in your body, the more you can produce the haemoglobin necessary for generating enough red blood cells. 

Taking iron supplements boosts the production of red blood cells in the body, resulting in optimal health function. When you lose blood, your haemoglobin count lowers, too. No wonder why women are most likely to have anaemia, as they bleed each month during menstrual cycles [1]. 

10 health benefits of taking iron supplements

Furthermore, anaemia can be treated with iron supplements. The haemoglobin levels drop below normal levels when someone has anaemia. Thus, iron supplementation can increase the body’s haemoglobin levels. When left untreated, iron deficiency anaemia can further lead to arrhythmias, heart murmur, enlarged heart and heart failure. 

2. Improve immunity

You can quickly boost your immunity with the proper amount of iron in your body. Iron can flush out toxins and help fight off viruses and harmful bacteria. Through haemoglobin formed by taking iron supplements, you can easily send oxygen to the vital organs in your body to fight potential diseases and infections. Damaged cells, tissues and organs can be benefited by having enough iron as well. 

Moreover, iron is necessary for the proliferation and maturation of immune cells, specifically the lymphocytes that are responsible for the generation of a specific response to infection [2]. 

3. Minimise bruising

Occasional bruising is fine; however, it is a sign of low iron in the body when it becomes frequent. Bruising occurs when your internal clotting system is not functioning correctly as it should. Haemoglobin plays a vital role in the production and function of platelets that are involved in controlling blood clots. By taking iron supplements, you ensure that your body has its needed iron intake, minimising bruising. 

4. Better athletic performance

Interestingly, iron deficiency is common among athletes, too, particularly in females, compared with people who do not have an active lifestyle. A research study conducted by health experts suggests that female endurance athletes must add ten milligrams of elemental iron daily to the recommended dietary allowance for proper iron intake [3]. 

Athletes may decrease their level of athletic performance and weaken their immune system if they develop iron deficiency. It happens because a lack of haemoglobin directly affects physical activity exertion, slowing down the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles. Having an inadequate amount of iron can cause your muscles to strain easily and reduce muscle strength. 

Iron supplements can improve your body’s endurance during physical activity, particularly your muscle performance. You can also reduce your risk of inflamed tissue and body pain. 

5. Reduce fatigue 

When you are anaemic, there is a constant feeling of fatigue or lack of energy; it happens because insufficient iron levels can impact one’s efficiency in using body energy. Low levels of iron can also cause a lack of focus, increased irritability and lowered stamina. As mentioned earlier, iron carries oxygen to the muscles and brain as well, making it a crucial element for mental and physical performance [4]. 

Moreover, iron is also found to be helpful in managing unexplained fatigue in people who are not considered anaemic but have a low ferritin level–an indicator of iron stores. 

In a research study involving women aged 18 to 53 who reported experiencing fatigue, it was found that participants who received a higher amount of iron improved their fatigue. The findings were acquired after conducting a randomised trial among the women with ferritin less than 50 micrograms per litre (mcg/L) and haemoglobin greater than 12 grams per deciliter. The participants were given either 80 milligrams (mg) of elemental iron or a placebo [5]. 

6. Improve cognition

Along with lowered iron levels is reduced cognitive performance. Research shows a relationship between the levels drops between cognition and iron [6], meaning an individual with a low iron level has poor concentration and attentiveness. As your body can’t produce enough haemoglobin, your brain is not getting enough oxygen. 

Hence, iron supplementation can restore optimal functions within the body, including focus, memory and other cognitive performances. In fact, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study reveals that taking iron supplements can improve verbal learning and memory among adolescent girls [7]. 

7. Promote a healthy pregnancy

During pregnancy, one’s blood volume and red blood cell production increase significantly to provide nutrients and oxygen to the growing foetus. Therefore, pregnant women need more iron than usual. Iron absorption is maximised during pregnancy; however, insufficient iron intake and some other factors can lead to iron deficiency. 

An inadequate level of iron during pregnancy increases one’s risk of delivering the infant prematurely and being low in weight. Worse, low iron can impair the infant’s cognitive or behavioural development. Plus, pregnant women with iron deficiency are also at high risk of infection due to their weakened immune systems. 

10 health benefits of taking iron supplements

Iron supplements must be taken during pregnancy, especially when the mother is iron-deficient. Take note, though, that research about recommending a higher intake of iron for pregnant women is still ongoing. Some health experts believe that women must take about 30 to 60 milligrams (mg) of iron supplements on a daily basis during pregnancy, regardless of their iron levels [8]. 

8. Brain-body detox and better sleep

Iron enzymes found in iron supplements can allow the brain and body to neutralise potential toxins released by the body. Also, the substance can neutralise pollutants and other harmful toxins that may also enter from the outside. Taking an iron supplement essentially flushes your body of different toxins and prevents other external toxins from entering.

A 2015 research study proved a relationship between having inadequate iron levels and sleep issues, including insomnia, restless sleep and sleep apnea. Thus, iron supplementation can improve sleep quality and prevent sleep conditions from developing [9]. 

9. Improve skin

Are you dreaming of achieving a natural pinkish glow? Skincare products may not be the only thing you need, but iron supplements also! Some common signs of iron deficiency anaemia directly affect your skin, such as dark spots, dull skin and undereye circles. 

Due to low levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells in your body, your blood is diverted from the skin and directed to supply vital organs instead. A lack of iron can lead to low levels of haemoglobin, resulting in the blood being blocked from reaching the surface or outer layers of the skin. When the blood can’t reach your skin, you are left with pale skin and poor skin health.

Regularly taking iron supplements can help your body optimise its skin wound healing function and minimise bruises and wounds. 

10. Enhance hair appearance

Generally, hair loss is experienced due to a multitude of factors, such as poor nutrition and bad lifestyle choices. Regular iron supplementation can help prevent hair condition–but how, right? 

Iron can help with hair loss by simply making sure your cells get proper and enough oxygen to stimulate hair growth. It aids in optimising skin health along with your hair by its contribution to supplying oxygen for cell and tissue repair. By ensuring you have enough iron, your hair may exhibit good health, including being shiny and smooth with good elasticity and detangles easily.

Iron levels as the key to slowing aging

In 2020, an international study was published claiming that you can age better and live longer when you keep healthy levels of iron in your blood. The claim was derived after the researchers studied genetic data from over more than a million people. The researchers pooled information from three datasets that can be publicly accessed and started their analysis from there. In the end, the analysis found that certain gene sets linked to iron can potentially lengthen lifespan, healthspan and longevity [10]. 

Aside from the ten health benefits above, iron supplementation has great potential to be an anti-aging source. In fact, some health experts suggest designing a drug that could imitate the function of genetic variation on iron metabolism to overcome some effects of aging. Though it will need much more intensive research, the future with iron for longevity is promising. 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224286/ 
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10971835
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4596414/ 
[4] https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/hemoglobin-and-functions-of-iron 
[5] https://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/11/1247 
[6] https://www.dovepress.com/iron-deficiency-and-cognitive-functions-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NDT 
[7] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(96)02341-0/fulltext 
[8] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1178626417737738 
[9] https://www.ajol.info//index.php/ahs/article/view/117606 
[10] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200716101548.htm 

Photograph: Masson-Simon/Envato
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