Iron is essential for human health, and plays a key role in many biological processes. Haemoglobin, which gives blood its red colour, is an iron-containing protein which is responsible for the transportation of oxygen around the body; iron deficiency is a common cause of anaemia.
Iron is readily available in the diet. Red meat is an excellent source of iron, as are dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. Breakfast cereals are often fortified with iron, and so are some breads.
Those at risk of an iron deficiency include pregnant women and women with very heavy periods. Regular blood donors are also often advised to supplement their iron intake. Vegans and vegetarians should ensure that they get enough iron from non-meat sources. Vitamin C is needed for the absorption of iron, so anyone deficient in vitamin C would also most likely be deficient in iron.
Iron supplementation can help to increase energy, as it improves the efficiency with which oxygen is made available to cells. It can also improve cognitive function, because of potentially improved blood flow to the brain.
However, too much iron intake can be harmful, and can lead to nausea, stomach pain and constipation. Many people find iron tablets difficult to tolerate. See your doctor if you believe you may be anaemic.