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Understanding iron requirements

Pam Mason looks at iron deficiency, the most frequently encountered nutritional deficiency in the world, and haemochromatosis

Green, leafy vegetables are a good source of non-haem iron (Sergey Goruppa/

The human body contains about 50mg/kg of iron. Of this, approximately 60 per cent is in the haemoglobin of red blood cells and 5 per cent is in the myoglobin of muscle cells.

A further 30 per cent is found in body stores as ferritin (20 per cent) and haemosiderin (10 per cent), which are the two major iron-storage proteins and are found mainly in the liver.

The remaining 5 per cent or so of the body’s iron is distributed among various enzymes. A small amount (<0.1 per cent) is in transit in the circulation bound to transferrin, the main iron transport protein in the body.

Iron has several functions. It is:

  • Necessary for the formation of haemoglobin and hence for the transport of oxygen and cell respiration
  • Responsible for oxygen storage in the muscle (as a component of myoglobin)
  • A component of cytochromes (which are critical for the electron transport chain) and, therefore, involved in energy production (by virtue of its redox activity)
  • A component of enzymes necessary for immune function (Iron deficiency may compromise immune function while iron overload may predispose to infection because iron is an essential growth factor for microorganisms.)

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10016865

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  • Green, leafy vegetables are a good source of non-haem iron (Sergey Goruppa/

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