Over the years, I have heard quite a few people say to me, “I am anemic, and I take iron every day.” The problem with that is at some point you are probably not anemic anymore, but you have been taking iron supplements for a year without a new blood test to check.
Iron excess has been linked to cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and host of other health conditions. The human body has a limited capacity to excrete iron, which can lead to a build-up of iron in the organs causing damage, like your pancreas, liver and heart.
Research has shown that only three percent of people are iron deficient; yet, 13 percent had too much iron in their system. You are 400 percent more likely to have too much iron in your body rather than not enough.
Nowadays, we see just about all of our food fortified with iron from baby food to adult cereals. This is probably not a good thing. Most people, though, do wonder if they are getting enough iron. Just realize that if we go by the statistics, you are likely to have too much iron in your body rather than too little, which could create a health risk for you.
Check your iron level by getting what is called a serum ferritin test. If your iron levels are high, you might want to consider donating some blood. Donating blood will help to lower it, but if that’s not an option and the blood bank will not accept your blood, then you can get a therapeutic phlebotomy. If you are a female with a regular menstrual cycle, you will lose some iron monthly.
Also, to help reduce irons levels, try green tea and rosemary. Both help reduce iron absorption, as well as curcumin and astaxanthin, which have been seen to reduce iron damage in organs.
Don’t get me wrong, iron is essential to bodily function; it aides in the transport of oxygen and cell growth. It also provides hemoglobin, which helps to carry vital oxygen through the body’s tissues.
Too little iron in the body may give you fatigue and lowered immunity. Iron deficiency anemia can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. On the other hand, if you have more iron than your body needs, this can become dangerous.
High levels of iron, as previously stated, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, but can also cause liver cancer, cardiac arrythmias and bacterial and viral infections.
The reason Alzheimer’s can develop is because free radicals produced from excess iron can damage structures in your brain called neurons. Also, iron is seen to have accumulated in certain areas of the brain associated with memory.
Research studies performed on laboratory mice showed that when given large doses of iron, Alzheimer’s type symptoms began and when the researchers reduced the iron in the brains of mice, the Alzheimer’s symptoms began to subside. Researchers have also found that intestinal cancers are two to three times more likely to develop in those with high iron levels.
According to Dr. Julie Sharp at Cancer Research UK, “the role of the APC gene when faulty or deleted, two proteins that trigger iron build-up in bowel cells get switched on and as iron builds up it activates a cell to cell signaling pathway that malfunctions in cancer called Wnt, which stimulates cancer cells to grow uncontrollably.”
She further states: “Finding ways of mopping up the iron that is in the bowel could have a real impact on the number of people who develop the disease.”
In Dr. Sharp’s study, mice with a faulty APC gene were fed a high iron diet and had a significantly higher risk of developing bowel cancer.
In some, there is a genetic predisposition to too much iron absorption in the body, which is called hemosiderosis or hemochromatosis.
Regular alcohol consumption will increase iron absorption. Some other ways you may get excess iron are cooking in iron pots or pans and especially cooking acidic foods in iron pots and pans. Also, consuming processed foods such as cereals and white bread that are iron fortified.
By the way, the iron used in those products is inorganic iron, not unlike rust and is far more dangerous.
If one is drinking well water that is high in iron, you would want to purify it through a reverse osmosis filter and don’t forget about vitamins with iron in them.
What you should do is check your iron level by getting what is called a serum ferritin test. A healthy range of serum ferritin is between 20-80 ng/ml. Below 20 you are probably iron deficient, and above 80, you probably have too much iron. The ideal range is 40-60 ng/ml.
Dr. Ramona Valentine
So, the bottom line here is to get a blood test to check your levels. If you have any trouble getting one, please give me a call.
Dr. Valentine is a weight loss consultant, a health consultant and a chiropractor. You can reach her at 727-771-SLIM (7546) or stop by A Slimmer You at 10300 49th St. N, Suite 211.