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The short answer is about 10 mg a day. You probably get all of that from the food you eat-or so growing evidence suggests-so you don't need to worry about not getting enough. What you might have to be concerned about instead is getting too much. Excessive iron for some people can be deadly.

Too little and your body may be unable to transport oxygen and other nutrients to tissues to generate energy and carry out other essential functions. Too much leads to increased production of "free radicals," renegade molecules thought to play a role in heart disease and cancer.

As cells die, the body excretes a small amount of iron each day. But beyond that, the body has no way to get rid of excess iron. And if you think you are getting too much iron, stay away from vitamin C. It boosts iron absorption. It's safer to eat more fruits and vegetables, or take vitamin E-it doesn't affect iron absorption.

When the body does absorb too much iron from food, it causes a condition called hemochromatosis. Where excess iron is deposited in the organs, primarily the liver, which is the major storage site. This can cause cirrhosis of the liver. Too much iron in the:

a.. heart can lead to heart failure
b.. pancreas can lead to diabetes
c.. pituitary can lead to impotence or sterility
d.. membranes lining the joints can lead to arthritis

Repeated blood transfusions (such as for serious cases of anemia, which is really a shortage of red blood cells, not iron as many mistakenly think) can also lead to huge amounts of iron being stored in the body.
There are lab tests that measure the body's iron stores, and if hemochromatosis is found, a simple procedure is performed called a phlebotomy. This is like a blood donation. Blood is drawn from the body which signals the bone marrow to use excess iron to produce more red blood cells, and these are removed at the next blood letting. This is performed once or twice a week until iron levels reach the correct stage.

It's a delicate balance, so unless you've been tested, keep an eye on your iron intake.