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Iron & Immune Health

September 7, 2021

Iron and Immune Health

Iron is an essential mineral for good reason. Iron is a powerful element – both symbolically and literally. You don’t want too much of a good thing and you don’t want too little. In other words, when it comes to diet and supplementing, you want to aim for the Goldilock’s zone of “just right”. Just right can mean different things for different people at different stages of life. A good reference for how much iron you or your family might need can be found here.

Most people are familiar with iron as being important for our energy levels – it’s used to make the hemoglobin in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. As vital as this role is, it’s the not the only thing iron is good for. Iron is also key to proper functioning of our heart, our thyroid gland and for making detoxification enzymes throughout the body. Proper cell and tissue growth and fertility all depend on iron too. But the ubiquity of iron benefits for our bodies and health doesn’t stop there. Our immune health is also dependent on having proper iron levels.

Iron is essential to the proper functioning of our immune system – both the innate and adaptive aspects. Iron is a growth factor for adaptive immune cells like lymphocytes – healthy numbers and maturation of these immune cells depend on iron being available. Iron also fine tunes the activity and antimicrobial functions of innate (“first responder”) immune cells.

There is a paradox at work though with iron and the immune system – a need for homeostasis or balance. Because, just like how our immune cells need iron to function and develop properly, invading viruses and bacteria that cause infections also rely in iron for their growth and proliferation.

So our immune system, using sort of an ‘early warning’ sensor system, notices the start of an infection and signals proteins like ferritin, transferrin and lactoferrin to sequester and hide excess iron so it’s unavailable for the pathogen. This plays out on a larger scale with research showing both iron deficiency and iron overload being associated with increased risk of infection and worse disease outcomes.

These effects of infection on iron metabolism and disease outcomes can be seen with studies on respiratory diseases. A 2020 study followed 109 people for 2 months and over 80% of the patients with the respiratory infection had iron imbalances due to inflammation. 30% had iron deficiency and 9% were anemic. In most cases, they had enough iron in their bodies, but due to the infection, it was not available for red blood cells. Super frustrating if you’re a red blood cell crying out for some iron – but in the wisdom of the body’s programming, it’s better to deprive the virus of iron in the short-term. In severe cases though, recovery can take a while. The patients’ resulting lung and physical performance issues persisted well beyond the acute phases of the disease – at least 2 months after.

So the takeaways from all this:

Use code IRON15 for 15% off Flora’s iron supplements at www.Florahealth.com now through 9.13.21.

About the Author:

Robert Dadd is a Master Herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) with a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University. His areas of research include adaptogens, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. He is currently the Product Information Supervisor for Flora Manufacturing and Distributing.

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