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General Description

Iron is a metallic mineral present in minute amounts in all cells of the human body. The majority of bodily iron is found in hemoglobin, the compound in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. Iron is also a crucial component of myoglobin, a compound that facilitates oxygen use and storage in muscle tissues. Many enzyme reactions require iron, and it plays an important part in numerous biological processes. Too little iron can interfere with these vital functions and lead to disease and death. Iron deficiency is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency. Supplemental iron is available in a number of forms including iron sulfate, fumarate, succinate, glycinate, and gluconate.

Food Sources

The richest dietary sources of iron include meat (especially liver), poultry, and fish. Brewer's yeast, kelp, blackstrap molasses, nuts, and whole grains are also good sources.

Health Applications

  • Carries oxygen in the blood
  • Prenatal nutrition
  • Growth and development
  • Red blood cell production


The recommended dietary allowance for iron is 10 mg/day for children 12 and under, 15 mg/day for women ages 12-50, 10 mg/day for women over 50, 12 mg/day for males aged 12-19, and 10 mg/day for men over 20. The CDC recommends that women supplement 30 mg of iron per day during pregnancy to meet increased prenatal demand. Patients diagnosed with IDA are often treated with 60 to 120 mg of oral iron supplements per day until blood iron levels normalize. Iron supplementation above the RDA is not recommended for nonpregnant, nonanemic people because of the potential for iron overload, which can cause liver damage and cardiovascular complications. Iron overload is usually caused by excessive iron intake or disorders associated with increased intestinal iron absorption such as alcoholism, liver disease, diabetes, or a hereditary metabolic disorder known as idiopathic hemochromatosis.