Iron Overload

Most Americans know that it is important to get enough iron, but very few people realize that too much iron is also a serious health risk.

Iron overload, also called thalassemia, can come from blood transfusions or be the result of hemochromatosis, a genetic condition which causes the body to absorb too much iron.

Iron is a mineral that people need to be particularly wary of, as elevated levels can go undetected and cause many health problems. When excess iron is present, the body’s normal antibacterial mechanisms become severely compromised. Excess iron can also create massive amounts of free radicals.

Sufferers of hemochromatosis have inherited a defective copy of a gene that leads a person to absorb too much iron from his or her diet. With hereditary hemochromatosis deposits of iron appear in practically every major organ — particularly the liver, pancreas and heart — which can result in lethal organ failure.

Medical science has recently gained new insight into this potentially fatal disease, which affects one in every 250 people, and is the most common inherited disease in the Western world. Long thought to stem from a faulty signal in the intestines, researchers have now identified a link between the disease and a gene in the liver.

Additionally, recent findings suggest a link between the body's uptake of iron and the immune system.

Measuring iron levels is a very important part of optimizing health, especially for men and postmenopausal women. However, simply measuring serum iron is often ineffective because it often reads as normal. The most useful measures of iron status in the body are the serum ferritin and total iron binding levels.

Elevated iron levels can be mistakenly diagnosed as Hepatitis C, and new information is also available about the link between HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) and iron overload. This topic will be addressed in our next newsletter installment.