Iron deficiency and iron overload

Iron deficiency and iron overload

Because of the health risks associated with high levels of iron, men over 40 and women over 50 should have their iron, TIBC and ferritin levels checked annually.

Because of the health risks associated with high levels of iron, men over 40 and women over 50 should have their iron, TIBC and ferritin levels checked annually.

by Paula Owens — 

Have you been told that you are anemic? Automatically you think you need more iron, but anemia or a low level of iron does not always indicate that there is an iron deficiency. And, what about high levels of iron?

Iron is necessary to carry oxygen throughout the body and for other cellular functions. It is stored in your muscles, liver, spleen and bone marrow. Without it, your cells would become starved for oxygen, your brain and muscles would not function, and your immune system would be impaired, among other problems. But that does not mean you need to take an iron supplement.

In fact, too much iron can be dangerous. Stephen Sinatra, M.D., America’s leading integrative cardiologist reported that those with excessive iron levels are twice as likely to have a heart attack. The most important factor is to identify the root cause as to why iron levels are too high or too low in the first place.

Low iron 

Some possible causes of low iron include nutrient deficiencies (vitamins C, B12, B6, folate and iodine); bacteria, parasites, candida, H. pylori  infections; intestinal inflammation, leaky gut, absorption issues, hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), excessive blood loss from heavy menses and internal bleeding.

Iron absorption can be inhibited by antacids, aspirin overuse, fluoride, excess zinc and calcium, and medications such as metformin and Synthroid®, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus and other autoimmune diseases, and long-distance running.

Also included among the causes are the Standard American Diet (SAD) with excessive carbs, starches, fructose, sugar and processed foods, poorly planned vegetarian diets and tyrosine deficiency (a commonly overlooked problem with the elderly who have an insufficient intake of animal protein),

Symptoms of iron deficiency may include fatigue, dizziness, headaches; nighttime leg cramps; spoon-shaped finger/toe nails with ridges; a desire to chew ice, eat chalk or dirt; and an inability to tolerate cold weather. Fifty percent of infant anemia is often an allergic condition caused by pasteurized milk that can create bleeding in the GI tract.

If you have low iron, consider taking vitamin C, which aids in increasing iron absorption. Use cast-iron cookware. Increase consumption of grass-fed red meats, oysters, clams, sardines, liver and organ meats, pastured eggs (especially yolks), black strap molasses, and chlorophyll-rich foods (spinach and dark leafy greens). Anemia in women can be a thyroid deficiency.

High iron levels 

Because of the health risks associated with high levels of iron, men over 40 and woman over 50 should have their iron, TIBC and ferritin levels checked annually. As we age, iron can accumulate in organs like the brain, liver, pancreas and heart. This is dangerous because excess iron is a pro-oxidant, a free radical initiator that accelerates the aging process and increases glycation. Sadly, the dangers of high iron are often overlooked.

Symptoms of iron overload may include lack of energy, joint pain, headaches, low libido, abdominal pain, memory loss, cognitive dysfunction and heart problems, and yet some folks may experience no discernable symptoms at all.

Without it, your cells would become starved for oxygen, your brain and muscles would not function, and your immune system would be impaired, among other problems.

Without it, your cells would become starved for oxygen, your brain and muscles would not function, and your immune system would be impaired, among other problems.

Causes

Chronic alcohol use, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, oral contraceptives and taking supplements that contain iron can increase iron levels.

People with hemochromatosis (a hereditary disorder in which iron is excessively absorbed in the liver, pancreas and other organs often have genetic mutations that predispose them to the disease. Viral infections, such as hepatitis, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, mononucleosis, liver cirrhosis and intestinal permeability can result in increased absorption of iron, as well as heavy-metal toxicity, liver, biliary or spleen dysfunction. Nutrient deficiencies of zinc, copper and molybdenum can also contribute is high levels.

Iron overload and hemochromatosis are silent killers, meaning no discernable symptoms occur, which can result in oxidative stress, glycation and cellular aging, hormone imbalances, early menopause and damaged adrenals. Iron significantly decreases the bioavailability of thyroxine (T4), which can lead to thyroid dysfunction. High iron can also result in dementia, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, heart attack, atherosclerosis, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Excess iron levels seem to increase with age.

If your iron levels are high

Avoid supplements with iron and foods with added iron, ferrous or ferric, but consider supplements that support chelation of iron and heavy metals. Avoid processed foods and grains, including cereals and breads “fortified” with iron.

Use stainless steel, glass or ceramic cookware. Consume copper-rich foods such as oysters and shrimp, as a copper deficiency causes tissues to retain excess iron.

Install a water filtration system and avoid well water. Drink coffee to inhibit absorption of iron. The Journal of Nutrition published a study showing that polyphenols (grape seed extract and EGCG found in green tea extract) decrease iron absorption.

Optimize liver function and rule out heavy-metal toxicity and a zinc deficiency; make sure iron, ferritin and TIBC (important lab values) are on your next blood test. Donate blood to lower and remove excess iron.

If your lab results indicate that iron levels are either too high or too low, determine the root cause why your iron, ferritin and TIBC are out of range, and restore balance and iron values to a healthier, optimal and functional level.

 

Paula Owens, M.S., is a holistic nutritionist, Functional Health practitioner, and fitness and fat-loss expert with more than 25 years of experience. She is the author of The Power of 4 and Fat Loss Revolution. paulaowens.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 3, June/July 2015.

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