Iron was discovered by ancient civilisations. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon "iren", and the symbol from the Latin "ferrum", meaning iron.
Iron is an enigma - it rusts easily and yet is the most important of all metals. World production exceeds 700 million tonnes a year. Small amounts of carbon are added to iron to produce steel and when chromium is added to this, the result is non corroding stainless steel (small amounts of nickel may also be added).
Iron is also an essential element for all forms of life. The average human contains about 4 grams, much of which circulates as haemoglobin in the blood, the job of which is to carry oxygen from our lungs to where it is needed. If the diet does not contain 10 milligrams a day, anaemia will eventually develop. Foods such as liver, kidney, molasses, brewer's yeast, cocoa and liquorice contain a lot of iron.
Another source of iron is in pots and pans. These cooking utensils contain iron in varying amounts. When cooking foods, iron tends to leach out into foods and is therefore ingested, without notice.
Iron overdose has been one of the leading causes of death caused by toxicological agents in children younger than 6 years. Iron is used as a pediatric or prenatal vitamin supplement and for treatment of anemia. Iron is particularly tempting to young children because it appears similar to candy.
Iron is an extremely corrosive substance to the GI tract. It acts on the mucosal tissues and manifests as hematemesis and diarrhea; patients may become hypovolemic because of fluid and blood loss.
The absorption of excessive quantities of ingested iron results in systemic iron toxicity. Severe overdose causes impaired oxidative phosphorylation and mitochondrial dysfunction, which can result in cellular death. The liver is one of the organs most affected by iron toxicity, but other organs such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, and the hematologic systems also may be impaired.
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