Iron is an essential micronutrient. However, free iron causes free radicals and subsequent oxidant stress. In fact, excess iron can damage cells and iron overload is associated with increased risk of cancer and heart disease along with neurological, endocrine and musculoskeletal disorders. Iron is unusual among dietary nutrients in that both iron deficiency and iron excess are relatively common health concerns.
Frequently Asked Questions
Iron is an essential micronutrient. However, free iron causes free radicals and subsequent oxidant stress. In fact, excess iron can damage cells and iron overload is associated with increased risk of cancer and heart disease along with neurological, endocrine and musculoskeletal disorders. Iron is unusual among dietary nutrients in that both iron deficiency and iron excess are relatively common health concerns. The difference between iron deficiency and overload is often a question of a scant few milligrammes of iron. Conditions that predispose to an accumulation of excess iron can be hereditary (hemochromatosis) or acquired (excess iron ingestion or chronic disease). Poorly appreciated by mainstream medicine is the fact that iron has a tendency to accumulate within cells during the ageing process.
The classic symptom of iron overload is skin hyperpigmentation (to a bronze or a grey colour) due to deposits of iron and melanin in the skin. The liver, as a primary source of iron storage, is particularly susceptible to iron overload and related damage, which may range from enlargement and elevated serum liver enzymes to fibrosis or cirrhosis. Long-term iron overload can result in liver cancer. Iron accumulation in endocrine organs has been associated with diabetes and hyper/hypothyroidism. Some of these may be reversed by correcting iron levels. Osteoporosis is possible with severe iron overload. Joint disease is common with iron overload causing pain with minimal inflammation in the joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and hips. Iron deposits in the heart can cause cardiac disease. It also increases vascular damage and heart attack risks. The brain is another potential site of excess iron accumulation and has been observed in the brains of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients. Bacteria require iron for many of the same reactions as humans; therefore excess iron can stimulate the growth of invading pathogens.
Primary iron overload
This results from inherited defects in genes involved in iron absorption, transport or regulation. Hemochromatosis is the most common and can be divided into four types and is particularly rare.
Secondary iron overload
This can result from a variety of conditions including repeated blood transfusions. Additional iron is introduced with each transfusion and since humans have no method of excretion, overload becomes possible. Chronic liver disease caused by, for example, alcoholic fatty liver and hepatitis C virus can compromise the liver's ability to produce the iron regulatory hormone and the iron transport protein. Excessive dietary intake is becoming much more common as self-supplementation becomes more popular.
Poorly appreciated by mainstream medicine is the fact that iron has a tendency to accumulate within cells during the ageing process. The main area in which conventional medicine fails in hemochromatosis is the lack of diagnostic blood tests done by medical practitioners.
Conventional treatment of excess iron usually consists of bloodletting as the body has no mechanism of which to excrete excess iron. Iron chelation has become increasingly more popular. These treatments involve chelating agents being injected into the bloodstream to bind to and remove excess iron.
Your doctor at Health Renewal will, through a consultation and examination, make a tailor-made solution for you. You may be requested to undergo blood tests. The initial medical consultation at Health Renewal will be approximately 45 minutes. You will have to complete an in-depth questionnaire before the consultation so please arrive 20 minutes before the time. During the 45 minute consultation; your Health Renewal doctor will obtain a full medical history from you to determine your personal risk. A physical examination will be done after which he/she will decide which blood tests need to be requested from your local pathology laboratory. These results will then be analysed by your doctor and this will be discussed with you at your follow-up appointments. This will determine whether a definite deficiency/excess exists and you will be advised on your treatment options. These options may range from prescriptions, nutraceuticals, and bio-identical hormonal creams.
As previously mentioned, excess iron can be the cause of skin hyperpigmentation, liver damage, heart conditions, osteoporosis (in severe cases), Parkinson's and bacterial overgrowth.
The conventional treatment of iron overload is bloodletting and/or iron chelation. The risk of both of these treatment options is that if they are not done in a controlled environment, they can lead to low iron levels. However, this is not common. The main challenge in treating iron levels arises when treating low iron stores as this often causes over-treatment.
Several dietary constituents have been investigated for their ability to treat iron overload. They work by either reducing or inhibiting iron absorption from the gut, or binding excess iron in the blood and tissues to help draw it out of the body. Additionally, the significant contribution of free radical damage to the progression of iron-overload associated diseases suggests a role for increasing antioxidant consumption.
Lactoferrin-Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein. It binds iron in areas outside of the bloodstream such as the mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive tissues. It is present at high concentrations in milk and has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Polyphenols-Polyphenols chelate iron and act as antioxidants.
Pectin-Pectin is an indigestible fibre and interferes with iron absorption.
Milk Thistle-Milk thistle has iron chelation properties.
Curcumin-Curcumin, which are derived from the spice turmeric, are antioxidants and iron chelators.
Green tea-Green tea catechins are potent antioxidants that demonstrate an iron chelating activity.
Alpha Lipoic acid-Alpha Lipoic acid is an important antioxidant and enzyme co-factor.
Carnitine-Carnitine is an internal shuttle that helps move fatty acids into cells for conversion into energy. It shows antioxidant as well as iron chelating activity.
For all health conditions, the nutraceuticals are individually tailored by the Health Renewal doctor. The doctor will decide-based on your history, physical examination and blood tests what would be the best for you and your specific needs and/or deficiencies. Please do not self-medicate. Self-medicating is done when a person takes prescription medication or nutraceuticals on their own without a doctor's supervision and/or consent. By not having a physical examination and blood testing done by a qualified medical practitioner, you could be not treating vital deficiencies or conditions such as elevated blood pressure and high sugar levels. In addition, there is no single supplement given to clients as there is no magic bullet that can support all the essential nutrients that one's body needs.
Make an appointment to consult with your Health Renewal doctor and they will assist you in determining your risk factors and how best to prevent any problems/conditions that you may be susceptible to.
Depending on which form of supplementation you and your Health Renewal doctor have decided on, one could expect to follow up with your physician from anything between every 3 months to once every 6 months.
If you are known with hemochromatosis-limit your dietary iron intake. Red meat, alcohol, legumes, leafy greens and fortified bread or cereals are examples of foods containing high iron levels.
Foods high in Vitamin C/citrus fruits may enhance the absorption of iron. Supplemental vitamin C greater than 500 mg per day should be avoided in patients with iron overload and especially avoided at mealtimes.
Yearly blood donation may also help to maintain iron levels.
Avoid taking supplemental iron unless needed (i.e. due to a proven deficiency). Iron needs should be determined with yearly blood testing. Pregnant women, due to increased iron requirements, should consult their physician to determine if iron supplementation is appropriate.