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Iron affects your coping, well-being and mood

Iron is essential for the body. It affects many bodily functions. One of its main tasks is to transport oxygen to important organs such as the heart and muscles.

Iron is essential for people

  • Iron acts as an oxygen-binding component of red blood cells’ haemoglobin.
  • The recommended iron intake is higher for women than for men.
  • The best sources of dietary iron are liver, meat and whole grain products.
  • Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia.

Iron is essential for the body

Iron is an essential mineral, more specifically a micronutrient, for the body. It affects many bodily functions. One of its main tasks is to transport oxygen to important muscles and organs, such as the heart.

Normal iron values help to prevent anaemia and to stay refreshed and healthy. Low iron values lead to poor health but, on the other hand, high values can also cause health problems.

The body cannot produce iron, so it must be obtained through food every day. Iron is eliminated from the body with secretions, which is why regular intake is important.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.

Functions of iron

The main function of iron is to participate in the transport of oxygen as a component of red blood cells’ haemoglobin.

Why is iron intake so important?

Adequate iron intake ensures normal energy levels and coping. Iron must be obtained through food every day as our bodies cannot produce it. Ferritin is the primary test if iron deficiency is suspected.

Storage of iron

The majority of the body’s iron is functional, usable iron. However, iron is also stored in ferritin. In addition to many other factors, the amount of iron stored in the body is influenced by the time of day and, in women, the stage of the menstrual cycle. In other words, the iron content in the body is not constantly the same.

Iron absorption is complex

Although iron is obtained from food, its absorption in the body may be poor. Iron is absorbed by the body from the small intestine, which plays an important role in regulating the amount of iron in the body. Coeliac disease and other conditions related to malabsorption, for example, can affect the absorption of iron.

In coeliac disease, the protein gluten contained in rye, wheat and barley damages the villus on the mucous membrane of the small intestine, which can cause nutrient absorption disorders. This may lead to poor absorption and deficiency of nutrients such as iron. The method of treating iron deficiency is determined according to the causes of the condition. If the cause is coeliac disease, it must be treated appropriately. It can also support the absorption of iron in the future.

Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron. When eating iron-rich foods or iron supplements, you should also ensure proper vitamin C intake, for example, from fruits or berries. Many iron supplements contain vitamin C.

Certain foods and beverages restrict the absorption of iron. Calcium (contained in dairy products or calcium-enriched plant-based drinks, such as oat drinks), magnesium supplements, coffee and tea impair the absorption of iron, which is why iron supplements should not be taken when eating or drinking these.

Certain medications may also interfere with the absorption of iron. Consult your doctor for detailed instructions.

Iron is best absorbed when iron stores are scarce. As the level of iron in the body increases, absorption gradually diminishes.

Iron level tests

The two most common blood tests used to assess iron levels are haemoglobin and ferritin tests. Iron test is also available, but when assessing iron deficiency, haemoglobin and ferritin are more important. An iron test is primarily carried out as an additional test when determining the transferrin saturation.

The haemoglobin test is the most common blood test in healthcare. It is used to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia. Haemoglobin is part of the complete blood count.

Reasons for performing a ferritin test:

How much iron is needed from diet?

The recommended intake of iron for men is 9 mg/day and 15 mg/day for women of reproductive age. The required iron intake for postmenopausal women is only 9 mg/day, which is also the level recommended for men.

The recommended intake for women is higher than for men due to menstruation. A lot of iron is lost during menstruation. Some women may have such heavy periods that a daily dose of 15 milligrams of iron is not enough.

The need for iron increases during pregnancy. Pregnant women are recommended by the maternity clinic staff to take iron supplements, if necessary. A daily iron intake of 15 mg is recommended for breastfeeding women. The maternity clinic monitors the haemoglobin value, which is an indicator of anaemia.

On average, only 15% of the iron in food is absorbed, which is taken into account in the iron intake recommendations.

Iron deficiency is a common problem

Iron deficiency may occur if:

What are the causes of iron deficiency?

Low iron values can be caused by, for example:

Iron deficiency is treated according to the cause. Iron stores can be replenished with food and, if necessary, iron supplements. If iron deficiency is caused by an illness, it must be treated.

What are the high-risk groups for iron deficiency?

Certain people are at a higher risk of receiving too little iron from their diet. Low iron intake can develop into iron deficiency anaemia.

Pay particular attention to your iron values and iron intake if you belong to the following groups:

What are the consequences of iron deficiency?

Low iron levels can cause a wide range of symptoms. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia. However, anaemia may be associated with lack of vitamin B12 and folic acid. The symptoms develop unnoticed and it is possible to get used to them and think that they are part of normal life.

Iron deficiency anaemia may be associated with the following symptoms:

The more severe the anaemia, the stronger the symptoms.

These symptoms may also be related to another condition or disease. If you suspect an illness or have symptoms, seek medical attention directly.

Is it possible to get too much iron?

Excessive intake of iron is extremely rare, but it is possible in principle. In general, it is not possible to get too much dietary iron. Excess intake is usually associated with a disorder of iron absorption (in which case too much iron is absorbed) or the use of an iron supplement (oral supplement or intravenous iron infusion).

Iron can accumulate in the body. In most cases, repeated blood transfusions are responsible for excess intake of iron and the use of iron supplements is rarely the reason behind it. The maximum dose of the iron supplement should not be exceeded. In the case of children, in particular, iron supplements should be used with care and the instructions given by the doctor must be followed.

Excessive iron intake can weaken the immune mechanisms of the body. Therefore, excessive iron increases the risk of infections to some extent.

If a dietary supplement or other iron-based products are used moderately, it is unlikely that too much iron would accumulate in the body.

An example of the adverse effects of iron is hereditary haemochromatosis. Haemochromatosis is a condition in which the body stores too much iron. The condition stems from a gene mutation that increases the absorption of iron through the intestines.

What are the sources of iron? Best sources of dietary iron

The best sources of dietary iron are liver, meat and whole grain products.

What are good sources of dietary iron?

The following foods, for example, are great sources of iron:

Which foods support the absorption of iron the best?

Iron (heme iron) is best absorbed from animal products, but it is also possible to get enough iron from plant products (non-heme iron).

What are the sources of iron for vegetarians?

Vegetarians and vegans can get enough iron from their diet. Vegetarians should pay attention to the absorption of iron in addition to iron-rich foods (for example, avoiding coffee, tea and dairy products when eating iron-rich foods).

The following plant-based foods contain iron, among others:

What promotes the absorption of dietary iron?

Foods containing iron should be accompanied by foods rich in vitamin C, such as vegetables and fruits, as vitamin C promotes the absorption of iron. For example, blackcurrants contain a lot of vitamin C.

What restricts the absorption of dietary iron?

Certain nutrients restrict the absorption of iron, for example the calcium contained in dairy products, magnesium supplements, coffee, tea and brans. If the aim is to increase iron levels, these foods should be consumed separately from iron-rich foods.

Iron supplements should usually be taken with an empty stomach.

How do iron stores affect iron absorption?

The absorption of iron is improved when the body’s iron stores decrease. In turn, higher iron stores effectively reduce the absorption of iron.

What is heme iron?

The heme iron contained in meat and fish is better absorbed than the iron contained in plant-based foods. Heme iron is only found in products of animal origin.

What is non-heme iron?

Non-heme iron is found in plant products. The heme iron from animal products is better absorbed than the non-heme iron from plant products.

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All tests

You can add individual tests to the pre-made laboratory packages or design your own set of tests.



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