Why is iron so important?
The body is completely dependent on iron to function. All cells in the body contain small amounts of iron-containing enzymes and iron is necessary for energy metabolism, among other things.
Iron is an important part of the hemoglobin that gives the blood its red color. It is the iron that binds oxygen from the lungs so that the red blood cells can transport the oxygen we breathe around to the body's cells. We can say that the red blood cells' only task is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the body's cells using hemoglobin, and to facilitate the transport of carbon dioxide back to the lungs. About 70% of the iron in the body is bound to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells.
What is meant by iron stores and blood percentage?
Most of the iron in the body is used to transport oxygen from the lungs to the body's cells. This iron is part of the hemoglobin molecule, which is an important part of the red blood cells. When you measure the blood percentage, it is therefore the proportion of hemoglobin in the blood that is measured. In technical language, this is called the hemoglobin value.
The body also has a store of iron. Most of it is stored in the liver, bound as the protein-iron compound ferritin. When you measure the body's iron stores, it is called the serum ferritin value.
When the body consumes more iron than it receives from the diet, the iron stores will decline and eventually be completely depleted. Only when the iron stores are being depleted will the blood percentage, or hemoglobin value, begin to drop. Iron deficiency is defined as a condition where the blood count is normal, but the body's iron stores are being depleted.
Anemia, commonly known as iron deficiency anemia, is a condition in which both the body's iron stores are depleted and the blood count is too low.
Iron supplements - not for everyone!
Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition where too much iron is absorbed from the diet and the body is unable to utilize or get rid of it. This leads to excessive concentrations of iron in the liver, which over time can damage liver function. Hemochromatosis can be detected by measuring iron stores. It is estimated that approximately 20,000-30,000 Norwegians may be affected by hemochromatosis, and for this group it may be necessary to draw blood regularly to reduce the body's iron stores.
Fun to know
- You produce as much as 115 million red blood cells every minute
- There are approximately 25,000 billion red blood cells in the body of an adult human
- It takes less than half a minute from the time a red blood cell leaves the heart until it returns
- If we add all the red blood cells of a human being one after the other, they will circle the earth five times at the equator
- A red blood cell "lives" for about 120 days before it breaks down