A strong immune system is the foundation of a healthy life. When it comes to building immunity, iron-rich foods can be great choices. Read on to discover the connection between immunity and this vital mineral and explore the top sources of iron-rich food.

If you’ve been feeling under the weather lately, it could be your body’s way of letting you know that it’s lacking in some essential nutrients like iron. Iron is crucial for creating hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. One of the main signs of iron deficiency is fatigue and difficulty breathing. However, iron deficiency can also be a major cause of weakened immunity, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses. In this article, we explore the connection between iron and immunity as well as ways by which you can get enough of this vital mineral through your diet.

What Causes Iron Deficiency?
A deficiency of iron is associated with the following factors:

  • Insufficient iron intake from diet
  • Decreased absorption of iron by the body due to issues like celiac disease
  • Increased requirements for iron such as in pregnancy
  • Loss of blood, especially seen in menstruating females
  • Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract due to stomach ulcers
  • Increased intake of phytates and oxalates in plant foods that reduce the bioavailability of iron

What Happens to the Immune System if I Get Iron Deficiency?
The main role of iron in immunity is that it helps our immune cells develop into cells that fight off diseases. Furthermore, iron is involved with certain pathways that impact how our immune system responds to threats. Thus, the immune system and iron are closely connected and low levels of this essential mineral can cause:

  • Weakened immune system: Reduced iron stores lead to the inability of the immune cells to increase in size and mature. This weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to illnesses.
  • Impacts immune response: Iron is essential for immune cell growth in response to viruses, bacteria, and other threats entering the body. A lack of iron affects the capacity to have the desired immune response, leaving the body to be more severely impacted.
  • Impacts antimicrobial activity: Another role of iron in immunity is that it is required as a cofactor (a substance required for proper enzyme activity) for antimicrobial processes that fight against microbes like viruses and bacteria.

Thus, it is safe to say that there is clearly a strong relationship between iron and immune system functioning.

Who Has The Highest Risk of Iron Deficiency?
The following groups are more prone to suffering from a lack of iron stores:

Infants and children: Infants, especially those who were born with a low birth weight or born prematurely, are at risk of iron deficiency. Additionally, children require extra iron during growth spurts and a deficiency could put them at risk of developing anemia.

Women: Women in general are more likely to battle anemia due to blood loss during menstruation. Female adolescents are also at risk of getting anemia due to the onset of menarche and increased growth requirements.

Vegetarians: Not consuming meat can put you at a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia. Make sure you're incorporating plenty of other iron-rich foods into your diet to stay healthy

The relationship between iron deficiency and immunity is significant, so let’s look at the foods that are packed with the vital mineral in the next section.

How to get more iron?
It’s important to maintain a healthy immune system and iron intake plays a substantial role in this. Here are a few iron rich foods that can help strengthen your immune system:

  • Millets: Options like bajra (pearl millet) and rajgeera (amaranth) are loaded with iron and extremely easy to prepare. You can get a good dose of iron by making bajra upma or amaranth coconut curry
  • Pulses and legumes: Dals and kidney beans are loaded with iron and other vital nutrients. You can include them in your diet by making moong dal tadka and rajma chawal.
  • Non-vegetarian foods: Animal foods like eggs, meat and chicken is an excellent way to strengthen immune system response. Include them in your diet in the form of egg rice and lemon chicken
  • Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek contain a good amount of iron. They can be consumed in the form of palak soup, amaranth coconut curry, and methi mooli paratha.
  • Nuts and seeds: Seeds like garden cress seed and flax, and nuts like pistachios can be eaten to increase iron levels. They can be consumed as flaxseed roti, halim kheer.

You can also consume vitamin C-rich foods like capsicums, tomatoes, spinach, oranges and lemons that enhance the absorption of iron. They can be consumed by mixing them with your iron-rich food or having them as a side dish.

Since the immune system and iron are closely intertwined, maintaining proper iron levels in your blood is crucial for your overall well being. You can boost your iron stores by including iron-rich foods in your daily diet and while you’re at it, make sure you also consult with your healthcare provider for a personalised diet plan. Let’s embrace iron for a healthy and well-functioning immune system.