Copyright (c) 2010 Stephen Lau
Iron is essential for life. Without iron, the human body cannot function optimally. It needs iron to transport oxygen in the blood to different organs and tissues. In addition, the human body requires iron to burn food and body fat. Without metabolism, there is no cell regeneration. In short, the human body cannot survive without iron.
However, excess body iron may not be good for human health. Research has indicated that excess body iron may lead to cancer growth and heart attacks.
All these years, drug and nutritional supplement companies have unduly emphasized iron deficiency as one of the major health problems in the United States. As a result, the public are led to believe that iron supplement is not only essential but also deficient in the diet.
Do we really have iron deficiency?
Truly, we lose iron through sweat, urine, and menstruation (for women). But that does not necessarily mean that we have iron deficient. For one reason, the human body requires only a small amount of iron to function optimally. For another reason, the human body has its own mechanism to recycle, transport, and store iron in its red blood cells. In other words, the human body is capable of conserving and reserving iron required for the body.
On the other hand, excess body iron may overburden the body’s capability to handle iron overload. Theoretically, the intestines will decrease the absorption of iron when there is excess body iron. However, the body may not be capable of excreting excess body iron. This may be due to aging, which causes the body to accumulate more iron. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass. But the loss of muscles does not necessarily imply the loss of iron stored in the muscles. Also, aging brings about a decline in the manufacture of red blood cells, leading to accumulation of iron in the body. Furthermore, menopausal women, in particular, increase their absorption of iron into their bodies when they stop their menstruation.
You must dispel certain myths about iron deficiency, such as you do not get enough iron if you are over fifty, you need more iron if you are a woman, and you need more meat in your diet to get enough iron. The truth is that you should worry more about excess body iron, rather than lack of it.
In addition to the potential danger of iron overload in increasing cancer and heart disease risks, the damaging effects of excess body iron are also seen in patients who must receive repeated blood transfusions, such as those with defective hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying pigment in the blood). These patients are more susceptible to iron overload in their bodies.
Remember, too much of something good may not be too good: too much iron could rust the body from inside out. Fortunately, you can always unload excess body iron in your body through blood donation. In this way, you are helping others as well as yourself.
For more information on the wisdom of healthy living, go to Stephen Lau’s website: The Art of Living Well. Stephen Lau is a writer and researcher with books and websites on health, Chinese healing, mental depression, eating disorders, golf, and money matters. For more information on health, visit his website: The Seven Pillars of Health Wisdom.