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Written By THT Editorial Team

Reviewed by Liza Nagarkoti , BSc Nursing, MA(Nutrition), Project Officer (Health) LWF Nepal

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood. In this article, we will discuss the sources of iron, its benefits, and its role in oxygen transport, as well as recent research and findings on this important mineral, with references.

Sources of Iron

Iron is found in a variety of foods, both animal and plant-based. Here are some sources of iron:

Red meat, poultry, and fish

Beans, lentils, and peas

Tofu and tempeh

Nuts and seeds

Fortified cereals and bread

Dark leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale

Benefits of Iron

Iron is essential for many bodily functions, including:

Oxygen transport: Iron is a component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, leading to anemia.

Energy production: Iron is also involved in energy production, as it helps the body convert food into energy.

Immune function: Iron plays a role in the immune system, helping the body fight off infections and diseases.

Role of Iron in Oxygen Transport

Iron’s role in oxygen transport is perhaps its most well-known function. Hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, is made up of four protein chains, each of which contains a heme group. The heme group contains iron, which binds to oxygen in the lungs and releases it in the tissues.

Recent Research and Findings

Recent research has shed new light on iron and its role in the body. Here are some recent findings:

Iron overload: While iron deficiency is a common problem, some people may have too much iron in their bodies. This condition, known as iron overload, can lead to liver damage, diabetes, and heart disease.

Iron and gut bacteria: Research has shown that gut bacteria play a role in iron absorption and metabolism. Studies have found that certain types of gut bacteria can help the body absorb more iron, while others can interfere with absorption.

Iron and exercise: Exercise can increase the body’s need for iron, as it increases the production of red blood cells. Studies have found that endurance athletes, such as runners and cyclists, may be at risk for iron deficiency.

Iron and cognitive function: Some studies have found that iron deficiency may be linked to cognitive impairment and poor academic performance in children.


Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood. It is important to consume a balanced diet that includes sources of iron to prevent deficiency and associated health problems. Recent research has also shed new light on iron and its role in the body, highlighting the importance of further study.


  • National Institutes of Health. Iron. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed May 9, 2023.
  • Heath AL, Fairweather-Tait SJ. Clinical implications of changes in the modern diet: iron intake, absorption and status. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2002;15(2):225-241.
  • Jáuregui-Lobera I. Iron deficiency and cognitive functions. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2014;10:2087-2095.
  • Kraml P, Štěpánková R, Černý J, et al. The gut microbiota influences blood iron status in humans. Gut Microbes. 2020;11(1):75-86.

 Children and iron deficiency

Even after a proper diet, some children may have iron deficiency due to several reasons, such as poor iron absorption, increased iron requirements during growth spurts, and increased iron loss due to menstruation or frequent blood donation. Additionally, certain medical conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic kidney disease can also cause iron deficiency in children.

The symptoms of iron deficiency in children can include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and irritability, poor appetite, delayed growth and development, and increased susceptibility to infections. If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to anemia and impaired cognitive and motor development in children.

It is important to diagnose and treat iron deficiency in children promptly, as it can have long-term consequences. A healthcare professional may recommend iron supplements or dietary changes to address the deficiency.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Iron deficiency – United States, 1999-2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2002;51(40):897-899.
  • Kotecha PV. Nutritional anemia in young children with focus on Asia and India. Indian J Community Med. 2011;36(1):8-16.
  • World Health Organization. Iron Deficiency Anaemia: Assessment, Prevention, and Control. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2001.