Iron is a mineral whose primary function is to carry oxygen in the body, by way of hemoglobin in the blood and of myoglobin in the muscles. The body increases or decreases iron absorption according to its need. Including vitamin C -ascorbic acid in one’s daily meal increases iron absorption. The body absorbs iron better when iron stores are anyway low, or pregnancy. At the same time one should also be aware of iron’s toxic ability to harm an individual.
Iron-deficiency leads to anemia. And the symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, concentration problems, dizziness, a weakened immune system, and energy loss are generally observed. This happens because the amount of hemoglobin in the bloodstream gets reduced and since oxygen is not efficiently transported to tissues and organs throughout the body the symptoms start to surface.
The first effect of iron overdose is irritation and ulceration of the stomach lining. Which in turn can results in nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting after around 20 minutes of ingestion. When too much iron gets into the bloodstream, it goes to all the organs and can damage the stomach, liver, kidneys, lungs, blood vessels and brain.
Another thing worth keeping in mind while we are discussing anemia is that an individual may actually be iron-loaded and need iron removed despite the anemia. The anemia should be treated with B vitamins, especially B12, B6 and folic acid. Many patients with anemia are dying of iron overload, because their doctors prescribe more iron, which is actually works against them.
People, especially the older lot have been seen to overdose on iron. It is important to keep in mind that excess iron is a greater risk than iron deficiency. In a survey done in the US, it was found that more patients complaint of excessive intake of iron than its deficiency.
Iron overdose can damage heart and brain and other storage sites in the body and lead to heart attack or stroke. People suffering from Haemochromatosis also face many such problems. This situation is generally seen in men above 35 and postmenopausal women. In this condition the body has no way to get rid of excess iron. And this excess iron storage can lead to atherosclerosis and ischemic heart disease. Severe iron overload, which causes liver and heart damage, can occur in people suffering from haemochromatosis. The symptoms include skin pigmentation, diabetes, enlargement of the spleen and liver, heart failure, and general weakness and lassitude.
If iron overdose is reported one should immediately contact the Poison Control Center, even if the patient is doing fine. It is for the poison specialist to decide if treatment is necessary or not. Treatment for overdose of iron or iron poisoning may include removing iron from the stomach. Another way to treat iron overdose is by giving a chelating agent, which binds up the iron in the bloodstream, and helps eliminate excessive iron from the body.