Iron is a mineral that may play a role in various biological processes.* While iron is available in different forms, heme iron stands out as a unique and fascinating variant. It is often known for its advanced bioavailability and role in nutrition.*
The historical odyssey of heme iron
The exploration of heme iron dates back to the early 19th century when chemists began investigating the composition of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells. In 1851, Friedrich Ludwig Hünefeld first isolated heme, the iron-containing molecule responsible for the distinctive red color of blood. Since then, extensive research has deepened our understanding of heme iron's significance in human health.
Biology of heme iron
Heme iron is primarily found in animal-based foods, where it may serve as a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin.* Hemoglobin transports oxygen from the lungs to body tissues, while myoglobin helps support oxygen storage in muscle cells.* Heme iron's ability to bind and release oxygen efficiently is often attributed to its chemical structure, which might help it support healthy blood oxygen levels.*
Heme iron is also involved in enzymatic functions, such as electron transfer reactions mediated by cytochromes and the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide by catalases.
Chemistry of heme iron
Heme iron's chemistry reveals its complex molecular structure and functional properties critical to its biological roles. The porphyrin ring structure forms the foundation, with an iron atom at its core, allowing reversible binding and release of oxygen, which may help support oxygen transport through oxyhemoglobin.*
Heme iron's redox chemistry may also enable electron transfer in cytochromes during cellular respiration and ATP production.* Ligand binding to heme iron influences its reactivity and function, including the formation of carboxyhemoglobin with carbon monoxide. Heme degradation by heme oxygenase produces biliverdin and bilirubin. Environmental factors and pH affect heme iron's reactivity and enzymatic functions.
Supplements and diet
Heme iron supplements are typically derived from animal sources, such as bovine blood. They are available in capsule, gummies and tablets form, making them easy to incorporate into daily routines.
Regarding heme iron in the diet, it can be obtained from various sources such as red meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish. These foods not only provide heme iron but may also offer other essential nutrients that contribute to overall health.*
- Marine organisms, such as phytoplankton, utilize this heme iron to help support their growth and photosynthesis, influencing the marine food web.
- The heme group in hemoglobin is responsible for its ability to bind carbon dioxide, allowing it to transport this waste product to the lungs for removal.
- Heme iron is crucial for olfaction, our sense of smell. Within the olfactory receptors of the nasal cavity, heme-containing proteins interact with odorant molecules, initiating the process of smell perception.
- Cooking methods, such as searing or frying, might help increase the heme iron content in meat.
- Certain vegetables, like spinach and kale, contain non-heme iron.
As always, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Get professional advice if you think you might need a heme iron supplement or are already taking one to ensure you’re not exceeding the amounts you may need.