What Role Does Iron Play in Immunity?

Immunity is a hot topic right now and one mineral that doesn’t get enough credit is iron. Iron plays a role in all aspects of immunity, including vaccine response. It even plays a potential role in the dreaded post viral symptoms too. 


Let's take a look at exactly how all this works. 


Iron Balance and Regulation in the Body

Iron metabolism is tightly regulated in the body and relies on two main sources for entering the circulation- the recycling of iron from red blood cells and absorption through the small intestine from dietary sources.


When iron is sufficient or in excess in the body, the intestinal absorption is reduced and in the case of insufficiency and deficiency intestinal absorption is increased. Clever huh!?


Understanding Immunity

There are two types on immunity- innate (first line of defence) and adaptive (when antibodies are made following an exposure). Iron plays a role in both these lines of immune defence.


Iron Status and Risk of Infection

Approximately 30% of total worldwide population, and 43% of all children, suffer from iron deficiency anaemia. Children and women of reproductive age are the most susceptible to iron deficiency because of the increased requirements for growth, in the case of children and monthly blood loss with menstrual bleed for women. Iron deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection. That never ending snotty nose, or rolling from one infection or cold to the next, that’s considered a "recurrent infection" and that’s associated with iron deficiency too. 


Iron Deficiency and Vaccination

Iron deficiency anaemia at time of vaccination, has been shown to reduce vaccine response to the diphtheria and pertussis vaccine, according to a birth cohort study and a randomised trial follow up study in Kenyan Infants. 


An article published in the Lancet calls for the efficacy of the covid-19 vaccine and duration of immune response to be further investigated based on these findings. It’s logical that if you are going to get the vaccine, you want it to actually work right?! More studies are of required and iron deficiency is no reason to delay vaccination at this stage.


Long Covid and Anemia

The most common symptoms of long covid are fatigue, fever, breathlessness, depression, cognitive disturbances (all which are also symptoms of iron deficiency) and additionally myalgia (muscle pain) and damage to the heart, lungs and vascular system.


An analysis of lab test conducted by Mayo Clinic of re-hospitalised covid patients, found that the strongest predictor of long covid symptoms was anaemia, which can be related to both iron, folate and B12 status. 



While there is still much we don’t know about covid-19 specifically, we do understand the important role iron plays in reducing the risk of infections in general. Iron plays a critical role in adaptive immunity, which including how you respond to a vaccine and how quickly you get better after and infection.  


The bottom line is, don’t put off that blood test any longer. Go get that iron study test done by your doctor so you can best support your immune system through acute infections and improve the efficacy of your vaccinations.

Brittany Darling
Tags: Iron