Iron: The immunity booster

Nutrition Expert: Sana Saiyed, Practicing clinical nutritionist, Mumbai

A robust and properly functioning immune system helps you in daily life as you come into contact with germs.

Why should we have robust immune system?

Protecting your body from viruses and bacteria is the sole purpose of the immune system. Without the immune system, your body would be easily available for foreign substances i.e. virus and bacteria to get inside your system and make you ill. Your immune system works by recognizing the difference between foreign substances and its own body cells, allowing it to destroy any of it that could cause harm.


 How can we improve our immunity?

Minerals have always played a very essential role in immunity-boosting for decades, although they are recognized better in today’s time considering the external conditions. One scientific review concluded that almost every effector of the immune response is limited in number or action by experimental iron deficiency. (1) In other words, every aspect of your immune system will be impaired by inadequate iron levels in your body.

It’s vital that your immune system is in good working order if you want to stay as protected as possible. Iron is one of the minerals that contributes to building a robust immune system. 

 Iron plays an essential role in both primary and secondary immune responses. Having too little iron degrades nonspecific immunity which is your body’s first line of defense against pathogens.

Importance of iron in hemoglobin synthesis:

One of the most important functions of iron is in heme synthesis, which forms hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues from the lungs. Myoglobin is a protein found in muscles that are used for the storage of oxygen.

Hemoglobin is the oxygen transport system found in the red blood cells of all vertebrates and some invertebrates. In humans, hemoglobin is made up of four globular protein subunits. The four subunits form a pocket that binds a heme group. Oxygen binds to the iron atom within the hemoglobin molecule in the lungs to form oxyhemoglobin. This occurs in the capillaries of the lung alveoli. It is released at its destination in the cells. Hemoglobin carries CO2 back to the lungs to be exhaled as waste instead, CO2 binds to the protein portion of the hemoglobin molecule and not to the bound iron in the heme group.

The overall utilization of iron in the body is regulated by ferritin and transferrin mRNAs which contain iron-responsive elements (IREs). Always remember iron requires vitamin-s (Ascorbic acid) for its absorption and transport in the blood.

Functions of Hemoglobin:

1.Oxygenation of the blood: 

Heme synthesis is the most important function of iron, which produces hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin’s primary role is to transport oxygen from the lungs to body tissues to maintain basic life functions. Without healthy red blood cells, your body cannot get enough oxygen, and this can result in you feeling increasingly tired or exhausted. (2)

2. Removal of carbon dioxide and Carbon Monoxide from the body: 

Hemoglobin transports carbon dioxide from different tissues to lungs. 80% of the carbon dioxide is transported via blood plasma. Carbon Dioxide does not compete with the oxygen binding site of hemoglobin. It rather binds to the protein structure other than the iron-binding position. The carbon dioxide bound hemoglobin is referred to as carbaminohemoglobin.

Recommended daily allowance: (RDA)

The below table shows the Recommended daily allowance of iron for Indians as per ICMR. (3)

7-12 months5 mg/day
1-3 years9 mg/day
4-6 years13 mg/day
9-13 years29 mg/day
13-15 years27 mg/day
16-17 years26 mg/day
18 and above21 mg/day
Pregnant35 mg/day
Breastfeeding21 mg/day
10-15 years27 mg/dl
16-17 years28 mg/day
18 years and above17 mg/day



“keeping your immune system intact is important”

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