What is iron and why do we need it?
Iron is a mineral needed by our bodies. Iron is a part of all cells and does many things in our bodies. For example, iron (as part of the protein hemoglobin) carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Having too little hemoglobin is called anemia. Iron also helps our muscles store and use oxygen.
Iron is a part of many enzymes and is used in many cell functions. Enzymes help our bodies digest foods and also help with many other important reactions that occur within our bodies. When our bodies don't have enough iron, many parts of our bodies are affected.
What is iron deficiency and why is it a concern?
Iron deficiency is a condition resulting from too little iron in the body. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States.1
The terms anemia, iron deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia often are used interchangeably but equivalent. Iron deficiency ranges from depleted iron stores without functional or health impairment to iron deficiency with anemia, which affects the functioning of several organ systems.2
Iron deficiency is a concern because it can:
- Iron deficiency can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills).3-6
- Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies.7-8 Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small.
- Iron deficiency can cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults.9-10Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.11