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Iron: An Example of a Mineral Requirement
Iron, whether in the form Fe(II) or Fe(III), is usually found in the body in association with proteins. Little or no iron can be found “free” in the blood. Because iron-containing proteins are ubiquitous, there is a dietary requirement for this mineral. Severe deficits can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron usually occurs as the Fe(III) form in food. This is also the form released from iron pots when food is cooked in them. However, iron must be in the Fe(II) state to be absorbed. Reduction from Fe(III) to Fe(II) can be accomplished by ascor-bate (vitamin C) or by succinate. Factors that affect absorption include the solubility of a given compound of iron, the presence of antacids in the digestive tract, and the source of the iron. To give some examples, iron may form insoluble complexes with phosphate or oxalate, and the presence of antacids in the diges-tive tract may decrease iron absorption. Iron from meats is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources.
Requirements for iron vary according to age and gender. Infants and adult men need 10 mg per day; infants are born with a three- to six-month supply. Children and women (ages 16 through 50) need 15 to 18 mg per day. Women lose 20 to 23 mg of iron during each menstrual period. Pregnant and lactat-ing women need more than 18 mg per day. After a blood loss,anyone, regardless of age or gender, needs more than these amounts. Distance runners, particularly marathoners, are also at risk of becoming anemic because of the loss of blood cells in the feet caused by the pounding of the thousands of footfalls that occur during a long run. People with iron deficiencies may expe-rience a craving for nonfood items such as clay, chalk, and ice.
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