Health Effects of Iron in Drinking Water

Pure water has no taste, but water is a natural solvent. Most minerals from groundwater, including iron, will be absorbed by water. Large amounts of iron in drinking water can give it an unpleasant metallic taste. Iron is an essential element in human nutrition, and the health effects of iron in drinking water may include warding off fatigue and anemia.

Drinking water high in iron is good for you, but the metallic taste is unpleasant. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Iron in Drinking Water

The thing that you’ll notice the most from water that is high in iron is that the water may taste metallic. The water may be discolored and appear brownish, and it may even contain sediment. Iron will leave red or orange rust stains in the sink, toilet and bathtub or shower. It can build up in your dishwasher and discolor ceramic dishes. It can also enter into the water heater and can get into the laundry equipment and cause stains on clothing. The EPA cautions that although iron in drinking water is safe to ingest, the iron sediments may contain trace impurities or harbor bacteria that can be harmful. Iron bacteria are naturally occurring organisms that can dissolve iron and some other minerals. These bacteria also form a brown slime that can build up in water pipes. Iron bacteria are most commonly problematic in wells, where water has not been chlorinated.

Iron’s Role in Human Nutrition

Iron is necessary for your health. The most well-known role that iron plays in human nutrition is in the formation of the protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to all cells of the body. Iron is also used in cellular metabolism and is found in many of the body’s enzymes. Low iron stores in the body can lead to iron deficiency, anemia and fatigue and can make you more susceptible to infections.

Some segments of the population are more at risk than others for iron deficiency. In particular, women, children, the elderly, and non-Caucasians are more likely to be iron-deficient than men, although anyone can be iron-deficient.

It is possible that drinking water that is high in iron may be beneficial, as it adds small amounts of iron to your diet. However, while drinking water that contains iron may help mediate iron deficiency symptoms, you should not depend solely on the iron in your drinking water as the only source of iron in your diet.

Health Effects of Iron Overload

It is possible for you to get too much iron through your diet, but ingesting too much iron through your drinking water is not associated with adverse health effects. However, while chronically consuming large amounts of iron can lead to a condition known as iron overload; this condition is usually the result of a gene mutation that afflicts about one million people in the United States. Left untreated, iron overload can lead to hemochromatosis, a severe disease that can damage the body’s organs. Early symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, and joint pain, but if hemochromatosis is not treated, it can lead to heart disease, liver problems and diabetes. A blood test can identify iron overload.

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