Author: Angela Fleming   Date Posted:17 October 2017 


Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation. Iron depleted individuals are vastly spread across the globe, existing both within the industrialised and developing nations. Iron deficiency is most prevalent amongst women during their reproductive age as well as children under eight.     

In Australia approximately one in eight people aged two years and over consume an inadequate amount of iron. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics it is females that are more likely to fall short in meeting their daily requirements of this mineral. In 2011-2012, 24% of females across all ages consumed less than the recommended daily intake of iron per day compared with 3% of males.


Why is this mineral so important?

Iron is required for the occurrence of approximately 200 biochemical reactions. It functions in the body as a component of several proteins including haemoglobin, myoglobin, protein carrier molecules known as cytochromes and enzymes.


  • Iron is involved in red blood cell formation. It plays a role in maintaining and supporting the production of healthy blood and erythrocytes (red blood cells). This is important for nutrient delivery throughout the body and to the tissues.


  • Energy production; Perhaps the most important function of iron is its role in haemoglobin and myoglobin efficacy and competency. Iron is an integral element required in these proteins in order to sufficiently supply the body with adequate amounts of oxygen. Oxygen is essential for life; it is required for growth and development as well as energy production and metabolism.


  • Immune function; it is required for mounting an effective immune response. It is utilised in the proliferation and activation of lymphocytes in both the humoral and cell-mediated immune system. During pathogenic activity and infectious states, macrophages, monocytes, microglia and lymphocytes are able to contest pathogenic insults by controlling their iron fluxes. This is an important mechanism as it prevents pathogens from using iron for growth.


  • Memory; Iron is involved in cognition. It has been shown that iron deficiency can impair working memory in children and adults. Supplementation with iron may help with cognition, attention and concentration in those with a deficiency.


Factors that influence iron status

The recommended daily intake of iron varies across the ages and differs between genders.





Men 19 - >70 yrs

8mg / day

Women 19 – 50 yrs 

18mg / day

Women 51 - > 70 yrs

8mg / day

Pregnant women 14 – 50 yrs

27mg / day

Lactating women 14 – 18 yrs

10mg / day

Lactating women 19 – 50 yrs

9mg / day


Children & Adolescents



Male and female 7 – 12 months

11mg / day

Male and female 1 – 3 yrs

9mg / day

Male and female 4 – 8 yrs

10mg / day

Boys 9 – 13 yrs

8mg / day

Boys 14 – 18 yrs

11mg / day

Girls 9 – 13 yrs

8mg / day

Girls 14 – 18 yrs

15mg / day


Menstruating as well as pregnant women require a higher intake of iron due to iron loss and for foetal development.

Vegetarian and vegan diets often contain inadequate amounts of iron. The bulk of these diets are predominately made up of plant foods. Plants foods such as spinach and beetroot contain non-haem iron, as opposed to haem iron found in animal products. Non-haem iron has been shown to be poorly absorbed due to the polyphenols, phytates, and tannins found in plant foods. They have been shown to inhibit the absorption of non-haem iron.

Inadequate Intake; The haem form found in animal products such as red meat is superior in bioavailability and absorption compared to non-haem forms. Some individuals that do consume meat simply do not get an adequate intake of iron, which also affects iron status.

Young children who aren’t fond of iron filled food products may also fall short in their daily intake of iron, which in turn will affect overall iron status.



When should I take Iron?

It is important to know where your iron levels are sitting before taking an iron supplement. Unnecessary iron supplementation may cause an elevation in iron levels beyond the appropriate reference range. All it takes is a simple blood test from your doctor to determine your iron status. Your doctor will inform you if iron supplementation is necessary depending on results.


Which form should I take?

There are many different forms of iron on the market. It is important to choose a highly bioavailable form. Iron glycinate is a highly absorbable and bioavailable form. Iron glycinate is covalently bound to the smallest amino acid, glycine. This form of iron is efficiently transported to the intestinal mucosa to be absorbed through the uptake of amino acid pathways. Then is released directly into the desired cells.

When looking for an iron supplement, it is important to check to see if it has irons cofactors such as vitamin C, B vitamins, and betacarotene. These cofactors help with irons absorption and to aid  in overall iron status and red cell production. 

*It is essential to have Iron studies done through your General Practitioner prior to supplementation. Supplementation should not replace a balanced diet.  


Written by Angela Fleming
Angela Fleming

Angela (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath who strongly believes in living a healthy and happy lifestyle. Angela believes being active, taking time out for yourself on a regular basis and consuming a balanced healthy diet (with the odd sneaky treat included now and then) is the fundamental key to keeping our minds and bodies in good health.

Angela loves to pass on her knowledge of healthy and happy living to her two young children, who love to experiment in the kitchen with her and train alongside her in Karate.

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