How Iron Deficiency And Iron Overload Imperceptibly Degrade Your Health

Hi again! I hope you've been enjoying my 5-installment series on iron and human health.

In this part, the third installment, I will talk about the problems associated with an iron deficiency and iron overload.

The previous two parts have discussed the topics of:

  1. The basics of iron in human evolutionMany people don't really mind their iron levels even though it's traditionally one of the most important minerals out there. Also, it's much easier to go wrong with iron than many other minerals such as zinc or sodium - most people consume sufficient amounts of the latter minerals.
  2. Lab testing your iron levelsLab testing your iron status is covered by insurance in many places. And even if your iron lab testing isn't covered, it's very cheap to order a lab test through private options. This second blog post explains many different iron lab tests and which ones you need to order, such as hemoglobin, transferrin saturation, ferritin, and much more. Don't be overwhelmed and just read the blog for a simplification.

Let's now explore the topic of this blog post, iron deficiency, overload, and the benfeits of optimal levels.


Table Of Contents

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Let's go:


Iron Deficiency And Related Conditions Such As Iron Deficiency Anemia 

Let's start with a definition: 

Iron deficiency can lead to a condition called "iron deficiency anemia", in which your blood contains too little iron.

Anemia and iron deficiency are thus not the same.

The reason for distinguishing between these two concepts is because anemia can be caused through several mechanisms--iron deficiency being merely one of them. I had mentioned that difference in passing in the previous section.

Anemia simply means that the body does not create sufficient red blood cells or that existing blood cells contain very little hemoglobin.



If you've got low hemoglobin, you'll automatically have low iron in these blood cells as well, as iron is needed to create hemoglobin. Remember that iron is needed in blood cells to carry the oxygen that you breathe throughout your body.

You can also be anemic due to hereditary conditions, for example, which is not directly caused by having too little iron available, even though the consequence of anemia is the same.

Blood loss or a diet that doesn't contain essential vitamins such as vitamin B9 or B12 can be other reasons for anemia.[7; 8; 9

(Both vitamin B9 and B12 are also needed to create homoglobin.) 

Additionally, iron deficiencies without anemia also exist.[127; 128]

In that non-aenemic variation, iron stores are still sufficient that hemoglobin levels are not lowered, even though the total body store of iron has dramatically declined.

The problem is that you'll already start experiencing negative health effects with a non-anemic iron deficiency - this circumstance is thus far from optimal.[136]

So how do you know whether you're at risk for getting anemia? 

Let's find out:

The following population groups are at most risk for iron deficiency:

  • Children, especially adolescents, because they're growing and therefore need higher iron intakes.[129; 130; 131; 132; 133

    Anemia during childhood can bring lasting health impairments, which is devastating. Examples of lasting effects are poorer functioning of the visual and auditory system in the brain, defective brain structure development, declining hormone levels and responses, and poorer sleep patterns,[210; 211; 212; 213]

    Around 20% of adolescents are anemic today even in developed countries, which is truly tragic. Parents, please feed kids and teenagers well before buying them an Iphone.

  • Women who are regularly menstruating. As you know now, menstruation leads to iron loss.[134; 135; 136

    During pregnancy, women also have increased iron needs. More than 20% of women problematically experience an iron deficiency during their reproductive years.[138]

    If you're a young female, I highly recommend to get your iron levels tested. Living with an iron deficiency is like trying to swim against the current...

  • Elderly people[145; 146; 147; 148] One problem of iron deficiency in the elderly is that they may indicate the presence of disease, which should make you question whether iron deficiency is a cause or symptom

    Ferritin levels, on the contrary, are increased with many diseases. 

    For that reason, using the transferrin saturation over a longer period of time is a better diagnostic if you're of older age. 

    The topic of iron deficiency if you're older is complicated--I don't recommend increasing your iron intake without spending lots of time diagnosing (possible) underlying problems.

  • Athletes, especially if you're an endurance athlete.[149; 150] That iron deficiency is even encapsulated in the term "sports anemia", denoting lower hemoglobin and ferritin levels that are often observed in athletes.[152; 153; 154; 155; 156

    One reason for those lower levels is that athletes simply have more blood in their bodies, which entails higher iron requirements.

    If you're an athlete, you've also got somewhat higher iron demands because exercise destroys red blood cells, and thus iron - which needs to be re-filled.[476

    That exercise-induced iron destruction may be another reason why our ancestors had fewer iron overload problems 100,000 years ago.

  • If you're obese.[139; 140; 141; 142; 143] Yes, I find this outcome surprising as well. There's a specific link between inflammation in obesity on the one hand, and lower iron levels in the body on the other hand. 

    Ferritin is probably an invalid lab test if you're obese though, as the outcome can be obscured by the inflammation that's associated with obesity.[144

    The issue of iron status and obesity is complex, as obese people may store less iron in their blood, while storing more iron in tissues such as the brain and liver.[433; 434Measuring ferritin in the blood can thus be deceptive. 


    Biopsies and MRIs may have additional benefits if you're obese, as they're a means to double check whether stored iron doesn't cause organ damage.

    Those lower blood iron levels may also explain why obese people can feel more tired.

  • Digestive problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, in which iron deficiency anemia is a frequent side-effect.[117; 118; 119; 120; 121

    If you cannot tolerate gluten, then you're also more at risk for getting anemia.[157; 158; 159; 160] Gluten is a protein that's most people consume through wheat and some people don't tolerate. It's not quite clear yet whether gluten intolerance causes anemia, or the other way around - they may be interrelated.

    Bacterial infections with Helicobacter pylori, moreover, are yet another gut-related cause of iron deficiency.[163; 164] Many people have that bacterium in their gut, but it doesn't create problems for everyone.

    Parasites or worms, lastly, are one more cause of iron deficiency.[165; 166] Simply put: an unhealthy gut or digestion causes you to absorb less iron.

  • Any condition with bleeding in the gut.[169; 170; 171; 172; 173; 174]

    Bleeding causes an increase in iron loss, giving you an anemia risk over time. Examples of bleeding conditions are stomach or gut ulcers, intestinal cancer, or inflammation in that location.

    The aforementioned parasites can also cause internal bleeding. I'm not going into detail regarding these conditions. 

    Suffice it to say that if you find blood in your stool, an iron deficiency is more likely (also get checked by a physician if you've got blood in your stool - it's a red flag.)

  • Skin conditions.[167; 168]

    As some iron is excreted when the upper layer of the skin dies off, some skin conditions can increase the iron demand of your body, 

    A higher skin turnover means higher iron demands. Simple, but important to keep in the back of your mind...

  • Vegetarians and vegans are at greater risk because they don't consume the foods that have the highest iron absorption: animal flesh, from either land animals or seafood.


So, what are the consequences of being deficient in iron? Iron deficiency (anemia) causes many problems, such as:[129; 132; 137; 198; 199; 318; 319]

  • Impaired mental performance, such as a lowered attention span or memory problems.
  • Decreased energy levels and fatigue, and poor exercise capacity.
  • "Restless legs" syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder. With restless legs syndrome, you'll have a strong desire to move your legs.
  • Sub-optimal pregnancy outcomes, leading to developmental issues in newborns. Examples are babies being born too early, and getting a depression after birth as a mom.
  • Decreased productivity, and anxiety, worry, anger, and depression.
  • A painful tongue or mouth sores, and poorer nail condition (such as brittle or splitting nails, or abnormalities in nail aesthetics, such as white spots),  
  • Developmental disorders in children if they get anemic, such as problems in the nervous system
  • Hair irregularities, such as worsening hair condition and even hair loss.
  • Slower wound healing

Keep in mind that you don't have to experience all these symptoms in order to be iron deficient. If you've got iron deficiency, for example, you may only experience tiredness and slower healing, while not having nail and hair problems.

The more extreme the iron deficiency gets (as measured by ferritin, for example), the more symptoms you'll probably experience. As iron is so important for most processes in the body, you can also experience symptoms not included in the above list.

With a lower calorie intake, you're automatically more at risk for having iron deficiencies. The reason for that relationship is simple: with lower calorie intake you're more prone to consume fewer milligrams of iron.

Several diseases also cause you to have lower iron levels.[428; 429Your immune system can be very active and dramatically lower the iron content in the blood, for example, in order to starve pathogens from their iron needs.

Iron deficiency anemia is not benign and increases overall disease risk.

An impaired immune system (making you more defenseless against disease) and heart problems (e.g. heart failure, in which your heart doesn't pump strongly enough for the body's needs) are examples of eventual consequences of a deficiency.

If low iron levels show up on your lab test, it's thus imperative to consider how much iron you're taking in from food (a topic that will be treated later). If you do consume enough iron, it's necessary to check why you've become anemic.

So that's deficiency--let's now look at iron overload:




Iron Overload And Related Health Conditions Such As "Hemochromatosis" 

In the previous section I've talked about the dangers of iron deficiency--iron overload or "hemochromatosis", on the other hand, is also threatening.

The word "hemochromatosis" can literally be translated into "iron colored blood". In reality, the name is often used to not only denote excesses of iron in the blood, but also in other places of the body.

So let's consider that hemochromatosis danger: 

Remember the "hepcidin" I talked about in the second section?

If you're predisposed to iron overload, then you can be deficient in that "hepcidin" compound.[215] Hepcidin is necessary to regulate iron absorption in the intestines - lower hepcidin levels lead to greater iron uptake.

With unfettered iron absorption, the mineral will eventually be deposited in several organs, such as the heart, liver, joints, and even skin.[103]

Having a genetic predisposition to accumulate iron and blood transfusions are the main two causes of iron overload.

Some diseases also exist in which you can get an iron overload, such as "β-thalassemia".[216; 217; 218] No need to remember that difficult name though. 

Lastly, aging is another cause of iron overload (in the wrong places).


(Advanced explanation: because hepcidin function also originates in relation to the liver, it's simple to hypothesize that liver function is integral to iron metabolism. Studies confirm that hypothesis, hepcidin functioning is off in multiple liver diseases.[225; 226; 227; 228] While more research is needed, liver function looks closely related to iron status in the body. Supporting evidence: alcohol consumption is also tied to excess body iron stores.[231; 232; 233; 234])


Now, hepcidin not just regulates how much iron is absorbed, but also helps control how much is deposted in various organs, such as the brain, kidneys, and liver.[219; 220; 221; 222; 223; 224]

If you have a genetic predisposition to accumulate iron, you'll retain up to three times as much iron as a person who does not have the genetic disposition.

Possible consequences?


Just as a deficiency, iron overload increases your risk for getting several diseases:

  • Liver conditions, such as an enlarged liver due to iron accumulation in that organ, liver cancer, or failure of the liver due to diabetes.[319; 320; 321]
  • Heart disease, again, reflected in a bigger heart, or the heart's inability to pump strongly enough (called heart failure).[302; 304; 305; 306; 307; 308; 322; 323]
  • The spleen and pancreas organs may also be enlarged and get damaged.[333; 334; 335] The spleen cleans blood and removes old red blood cells. The pancreas creates the "insulin" hormone that helps carbohydrates get into your cells, and damage to that organ creates problems with handling protein and carbohydrates in your body.
  • Autoimmune conditions - such as "Parkinson's", and "Alzheimer's", and "MS".[324; 325; 326; 327; 328; 329; 330; 331; 332In autoimmune disease, your immune system turns against your own body.
  • Gut issues, potentially even colon cancer.[250]
  • Joint and bone problems, such as bone loss or joint inflammation (osteoarthritis).[242]
  • Diabetes, even though iron overload leads to weight loss.[245You may thus end up with both diabetes and being underweight.
  • Problems with your thyroid organ, specifically "hypothyroidism" - a name for a slow thyroid.[282; 283; 284; 285The thyroid is central to your body's energy production.

And more..

Furthermore, you can recognize iron overload by several symptoms such as:[236; 237; 238; 239; 240; 241; 242; 243; 244; 245; 246; 247; 248; 249; 463; 464]

  • Overall fatigue and tiredness, and/or mental problems (such as depression).
  • Shortness of breath, and higher blood sugar levels (due to malfunctioning cells)
  • Possible heart rhythm irregularities
  • Joint pain, especially in the hands
  • Gut issues and pain, and lowered immunity
  • Brain problems, such as poor memory
  • Organ damage, such as to the spleen, heart, thyroid, or liver
  • Losing weight and bone problems (such as osteoporosis)
  • Lower libido, and an absence of menstruation for women, and even infertility. The testicles of men can even shrink with more problematic iron overloads.
  • Changes in skin color - the skin usually begins to look gray or pale.
  • Hair loss

Being tired and joint problems are the most commonly experienced symptoms...

Please observe that many iron deficiency anemia and overload symptoms overlap - testing is thus key (a point I'll keep re-emphasizing).

So what's the catch?


Even in developed countries like the US iron is actually a massive problem.

Let me convince you with some statistics:

1 million Americans have a strong genetic predisposition of excessive iron accumulation in their bodies.[235Roughly one in 8-10 Americans also carry the gene that puts them or their children at risk for iron accumulation.

15 million Americans, moreover, are currently living with excessive iron levels.

You can assume that these numbers are roughly the same if you're living in Northern countries, as Caucasians carry the biggest risk for the aforementioned genetic predispositions.

How many people do you know who are aware of their body handles iron?

Let me guesstimate: 1% of your acquaintances?

2% tops?

Those percentages lead me to a simple logical inference: 

According to the statistics, at least 8% are at risk, meaning that only 1 in 8 is aware of how their body handles iron - that's far too little.

While I'm not considering all negative health effects of iron overload in this blog post, let's zoom in on a single very important side-effect: "insulin resistance".

In insulin resistance, the body's cells don't take up carbohydrates (mainly glucose) the way they should.[348; 349]

Opinions differ as of why cells don't take up that glucose anymore. One explanation is that insulin no longer does it job, so that glucose remains the bloodstream and cannot be transferred to the cells.

Another explanation is that the cells are already filled up with glucose, and that glucose is not properly used within these cells, which ensures that most glucose remains in the bloodstream.

Many indications exist that iron overload decreases the cell's ability to take up carbohydrates.[350; 351; 352; 353; 354; 355] The relationship between increased iron stores and insulin resistance seems linear in many studies. 

In other words, the higher your iron stores, the lower your cell's ability to process carbohydrates (sugars).

Now, the main problem is that insulin resistance and/or diabetes both increase your risk for several other diseases, such as heart and blood vessel problems, brain disease (such as Alzheimer), increased inflammation, obesity, and others.[356; 357; 358; 359; 360; 361; 362; 363]

You'll thus want to prevent insulin resistance if at all possible. 

Want more proof of the relationship between iron accumulation and insulin resistance?


Astounding fact: blood donations and blood transfusions (e.g. a decrease or increase in iron-rich blood) instantly affects that insulin resistance.


Insulin resistance immediately decreases after a blood donation--transfusions generally have the opposite effect.[365; 366A straightforward relationship between excess iron and insulin resistance thus exists.

Summary of the previous sections: how you manage your iron status can thus have an enormous effect on your overall health. Joint health, overall metabolism, energy, brain functioning, and the handling of oxygen are all adversely influenced by iron deficiency or overload. 

In the next section, you'll learn more about the benefits which optimal iron status can confer upon your health.

Stay tuned...



Thirteen Amazing Benefits Of Optimal Iron Levels 

managing iron has huge benefits for your overall health, such as increased energy
Finally arriving at iron's benefits...


So let's consider what all that hassle was all about. 

You now know all about iron deficiency and overload, but not yet about what massive benefits optimal iron levels can have...

The following section hopefully convinces you that optimal iron levels in your body are worth having. 

Let's grab the keys to the kingdom...

Keep in mind that you get all the benefits listed below with neither a deficiency nor an iron excess, and thus exclusively with optimal iron levels. Iron: 

  • 1. Helps your brain perform optimally.[175; 176; 177; 179; 180; 181]

    Having an iron deficiency decreases brain performance so much that it can be compared to a "mild cognitive impairment". Raising your iron levels from a deficiency gives you a couple of additional IQ points, which is incredible.

    Some studies show that iron deficiency can reduce IQ in children by up to 12 points, which is only partially reversed by correcting the deficiency.[178

    12 IQ points make a huge adjustment to your life, as, for example, there's generally a 10 IQ point difference between applied science and university graduates.

    Memory, the general processing speed of your brain, the capacity to focus, and overall learning ability may also improve with an adequate iron status in your body.[182; 183; 184; 185

    Brain signaling substances called "neurotransmitters" also depend on iron. "Dopamine",[187; 188; 189; 190; 191; 192; 193] "serotonin",[194; 195] and "(nor)-adrenaline"[196; 197] are examples of neurotransmitters.

    Dopamine makes you motivated, assertive, and happy. Serotonin is more controversial, but it's generally accepted that this signaling substance helps you be calm and accepting - although serotonin may have downsides. (Nor-)adrenaline involve stress responses.

    The gist is that you need iron to create these neurotransmitters in the first place. Without neurotransmitters your brain cannot function properly. Keep in mind that excessive iron is dangerous and reverses these positive effects.

    With iron levels that are too low, you may experience headaches. Why? Well, your body always prioritizes oxygen delivery to your brain. If the brain does not get enough oxygen, blood vessels expand to compensate, which explains why your head feels like it's about to blow off. 

    Headaches inhibit your brain performance, and consuming enough iron can prevent headaches and improve brain function.


  • 2. Boosts your metabolism.[201; 202; 203; 204; 477]

    Simply put: having too little iron in your body makes you fatigued while having optimal levels increases your energy levels.

    If you have non-anemia iron deficiency, improving your stores will mostly decrease your subjective experience of fatigue, but not improve your (objectively measured) overall energy levels.

    Iron also boosts your metabolism. A higher metabolic rate entails that you simply burn more calories, even in rest. Upside: losing fat and gaining muscle becomes inevitably easier with a good metabolic rate.

    To understand that metabolic rate, just think of teenagers' energy consumption. Teenagers usually have a very high metabolic rate, and easily burn off any excess food they consume, even if it's junkfood.

    Most people's metabolic rate slows down once they get older, and by that time you'll no longer get away with eating junkfood (or lots of healthy food either).

    And there are more benefits:

  • 3. Improves sleep quality.[205; 206; 207; 208; 209]

    Yes, no surprise here: iron even affects your sleep quality - minerals that I've previously written about such as magnesium and zinc do so as well.

    If you don't have a sufficient iron intake, some studies show that you'll move more during your sleep - in other words, you're more restless.

    In a related sense, a condition called "restless legs syndrome", during which you'll get a very strong incentive to move your legs at night, may also be prevented by optimizing your iron levels.

    With anemia, you can also have either a shorter or longer sleep duration than what you'd otherwise have. That longer sleep duration is simple to explain: you need more hours to recover, and you're thus sleeping less efficiently.

    Overall, optimal iron levels are a big win for your sleep quality.

    Let's move on:

  • 4. Keeps your immune system strong.[252; 253; 254; 255; 256; 257]

    Many cells of your immune system are dependent on iron, such as "macrophages", which destroy pathogens, "lymphocytes", which act as a defense in your lymph system, and "monocytes", which are a type of white blood cell.

    Let me explain:

    A harmful substance such as a virus or bacteria may enter your nose, gut, or skin, and trigger an immune response. That immune response is only adequate if immune cells contain the right amount of iron.

    As a result of sufficient iron in these cells, for example, the body can protect itself against infections. Without sufficient iron you'll be more susceptible to diseases such as tuberculosis or malaria.

    Hence eat some meat to keep your immune system strong...

    Moving on again:

  • 5. Helps your body create more energy while decreasing fatigue.[258; 259; 260; 261; 262]

    Again, weakness, fatigue, and low energy levels are all symptoms of being iron deficient. These symptoms disappear with the right iron levels in your body, .

    Fatigue almost always have a big effect on your life. High level of fatigue can even lower your overall quality of life. One of the reasons women can be really tired during pregnancy, for instance, is because of the increased iron needs.

    The next benefit should be pretty self-evident by now:

  • 6. Improves oxygenation.[264; 265; 266; 267; 268; 269; 270]

    Improving the availability of oxygen will help almost any process in your body, either directly or indirectly. 

    The "energy powerhouses" of your cells, called "mitochondria", straightforwardly use the oxygen that you breathe in. Iron is also in those mitochondria. Without sufficient iron, mitochondria can thus not properly function, and oxygen cannot be used correctly.

    As a result, iron has a huge effect on your athletic performance. The more athletic activity you engage in, especially endurance sports, the greater the number of red blood cells your body contains. Your overall endurance also increases with sufficient iron.

    Having more red blood cells entails that you've got more iron stored in your blood. 

    But let's look at the flipside of the equation: blood donations can lower your exercise capacity if your iron levels are barely sufficient. If you go too far in donating the opposite effects thus occur: remember that shortness of breath is a common symptom of having low iron levels, which is indirectly caused by having lower oxygen levels.

    With excessive blood donations, maximum power output (your explosiveness as an athlete) and maximum oxygen consumption can take weeks to fully recover. Replenishing to sufficient iron levels achieves reverses that effect.

    The bright spot is that you can have increased performance the next day if you ingest adequate iron after having a deficiency. You'll learn about that strategy in a later section.


  • 7. Simply makes you stronger.[271; 272]

    When female athletes were given iron supplements, they got stronger on many weight lifting exercises such as the "clean and jerk" and "power clean". In another study, strength was better maintained throughout the season with iron supplements, on exercises such as bench presses and squats.

    Iron is directly necessary for a compound called "myoglobin" in your muscles. Myoglobin transfers oxygen from hemoglobin into your muscle cells. Next to the blood, the highest percentage of the iron in your body is actually stored in that myoglobin.

    That myoglobin may also increase your performance. 

    Again, keep in mind that athletes deplete iron somewhat faster than the general population.  

    Yet there's more:

  • 8. Helps gut function.[273; 274; 275; 276; 281]

    Fascinating fact: the iron you ingest, either from food or supplements, changes the bacterial makeup of your gut.

    Iron can have very detrimental effects when supplemented, as pathogen susceptibility can increase - possibility in relation to the poor absorption of supplemental iron as opposed to food sources.

    Gut inflammation is another possible end result of high-dosed iron supplements. I'll exhaustively treat supplementation in a later section. 

    You may remember that iron is also a necessary prerequisite to build the lining in your gut. Without sufficient iron you will thus not optimally absorb nutrients from the food you ingest. As you know, gut problems also inhibit iron absorption, creating a vicious cycle of poor gut function, less available iron, and poorer gut function (yet again).

    Iron's effect of inhibiting the intestinal structure has mainly been demonstrated on animals, not humans.[277; 278In humans, however, supplementing with iron does show negative effects on gut disorders, such as "colitis" and "irritable bowel syndrome".[279; 280]

    Stay tuned...

  • 9. Keeps you warm.[282; 283; 284; 285]

    Feeling cold all the time?

    In that case, your thyroid gland may be not working properly. The thyroid is located at the front of your neck. 

    The thyroid's main functions are regulating energy and temperature. Iron is necessary for that thyroid to function properly, just as many other minerals (such as iodine and zinc).

    By optimizing thyroid functioning iron is thus able to keep your body warmer (which is a sign of higher metabolism as well).

  • 10. Repairs your DNA.[161; 162; 229

    Without sufficient iron, new DNA cannot be created and existing DNA cannot be properly copied. Iron is also necessary for repairing damaged DNA. 

    Again, these benefits only exist with optimal iron levels, not an overload or deficiency. In fact, an overload may have the opposite effect, causing DNA damage.[287]

    No bueno...

    Remember that DNA is a kind of "blueprint" of your body, and with damaged DNA you're at increasing risk for aging and disease. 

    Let's continue, in this case for the women (and vain men) out there:

  • 11. Improves your beauty.[200; 248; 249; 288; 289; 290; 291; 292; 293; 294; 295; 296]

    Yes, shocker! Hair, skin, and nail growth are all affected by iron in your body. 

    With sufficient iron, you'll have normal hair growth, for example. Low iron levels may even play a role in premature hair graying. Hair loss may also result of iron deficiency, which is cured by getting your iron levels up.

    How about skin health?

    You probably know about the effects of iron in that case: remember those pale looking people? 

    While pale skin is a very poor predictor of iron deficiency anemia, lots of people with anemia do in fact have pale skin. Because of lower hemoglobin levels you'll have discolored skin with anemia. Lower hemoglobin causes less oxygen to be present in the skin.

    With sufficient iron levels, on the contrary, you'll have a glowing pink skin that looks really healthy. 

    Iron is also required for proper wound healing, moreover. Iron deficiency, on the contrary, is just one of the reasons of slow wound healing.

    Nails, lastly, are affected in their shape through the iron status of your body.[291Unfortunately, the effects of iron on nail health are not studied well yet, although a deficiency will cause problems.

    Next, a benefit everyone loves:

  • 12. Helps your organ function perform better.[297; 298; 299; 300; 301; 302; 303; 304; 305; 306; 307; 308]

    Many organs - such as your heart and liver - depend on adequate iron status. 

    (Keep in mind that I've already considered some organs in this section, such as the thyroid and intestines.)

    As always, both high and low iron levels are damaging. Additionally, if you've already got a liver disease, then you may also be at greater risk for accumulating excessive iron. Iron accumulation can thus result in a vicious cycle of liver damage, which causes further iron overload, and yet more liver damage.

    While the role of iron in heart and blood health is complex and even controversial, what's very clear is that both a deficiency and overload are damaging to your health. 
    While I'm not going to treat the relationships between iron and disease exhaustively, an iron deficiency, for example, puts you at greater risk for getting heart attacks. 

    Iron overloads increase the risk for "heart failure", in which your heart does not pump blood strongly enough through your body. Additionally, an iron excess can deteriorate your blood panels such as your cholesterol readings.


  • 13. Boosts your appetite.[309; 310; 311]

    Interesting finding right?

    In a previous blog post I've mentioned that zinc increases appetite - the same is true for iron.

    Are you underweight, or an athlete who's trying to build muscle? Make sure you're not iron deficient, as you may not be able to crave enough food to increase your weight (and hopefully muscle mass.)

  • 14. Makes you more fertile.[312; 313; 314; 315]

    Yes, that's surprising...

    If you're severely iron deficient as a female, it may becomes harder to conceive. The female cycle, and whether you get a monthly egg, can also be influenced through your iron status.

    Men don't get off scot-free though, as in fact, iron overload is especially dangerous to men. The structure of the male testicles, for example, is directly affected by an overload. Overload also results in reduced libido, damage to the testicles, and lowered sperm quality.

    Yes, excess iron may be one of the reasons why there's an infertility epidemic in men...

    (Check THIS article for Alex's view on female fertility and THIS article about his view on male fertility)



So that's it, the full list of benefits you'll get when your body has optimal iron levels.

In the next installment of this blog post series, you'll learn how to manage your iron status through your food intake, and how different foods affect that process.


Finishing Thoughts: Aim For The Golden Mean Between Deficiency And Iron Overload!

Hopefully you're now fully convinced your iron status matters a lot for your health. For that reason, I'll continue this blog post series where I left off today. The next installments cover the topics of:

  • The best iron-rich foods and the very controversial topic of iron fortification.
  • Twenty different strategies to optimize your iron levels. These tips include anything from including specific plant foods to increase or decrease your levels to donating blood and taking supplements.

If you want toknow your iron status right now, then read my second installment of this series about lab testing. If you're not insured, getting to know your iron levels will cost you around $100 USD at most.

The next blog post will also teach you how to eat the right foods to prevent deficiency and overload, and, give you strategies to manage your levels easily!

Stay tuned!




This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently a health consultant at 


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