1 in 100 – 200 Americans have the complete genetic mutation for Hemochromatosis. 1 in 9 of European descent may be gene carriers.
Are YOU the ONE in the room?
Note: This article is one in a series. Follow up for ways to help clear iron (including giving blood), foods and supplements that affect iron and more. Meanwhile, check your Ferritin levels!
What is Genetic Iron Overload?
Also known as Hemochromatosis, some of us are genetically programmed to absorb too much iron from our food. The iron can be stored anywhere in the body, especially the liver, pancreas, heart, endocrine glands and joints. FERRITIN is the protein that absorbs iron and is the blood test to use.
The most common symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- heart palpitations or chest pain
- joint pain
- diabetes & insulin resistance
- metabolic syndrome
There are two kinds of overload: Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HH) has the gene mutations. But overload can occur in anyone taking excess iron supplements, being post-menopausal, or by being male. This is non-genetic overload.
Donating blood will reduce Ferritin. For some, twice a year is fine. For those with HH, it may require monthly donations for a while, then 2 to 4 times annually. Each donation can drop Ferritin as much as 100 points.
Most of us absorb only small amounts of food iron to replace daily losses from sweat, urine, menses or metabolism. Those with mutations do not have the control to tell the body not to absorb iron today. We just take it all in, with no good place to put it.
Who are the Most Susceptible?
The genes are more common in men, Caucasians, and those of Northern European descent. Women may have a sudden increase in Ferritin 10 to 20 years after menopause. Lacking monthly cycles we no longer keep iron levels in check. But elevated Ferritin does occur in those who do not fit this description.
Post-menopausal females, and ALL males (except athletes) should avoid Multi Vitamins with Iron. This is the one I sell in my online store and clinic. It has no Iron but does have Vitamin K2 and the correct form of Folate (Not Folic Acid).
How do you Test For Iron Overload?
FERRITIN tests levels of iron in the body AND is also a measure of inflammation and illness. When I order labs for clients I always include it. Low Ferritin is a sign of anemia. High Ferritin can indicate inflammation and/or Hemochromatosis.
If your Ferritin is high your doctor will check for an inflammatory disorder such as RA. They will order SED Rate and C-Reactive Protein. Testing Iron Saturation % may help differentiate between high Ferritin from inflammation and from storing excess iron.
Easy Tests for Hemochromatosis
The main tests: An IRON PANEL includes Ferritin, % Iron Saturation and Iron Binding Capacity. This should be run annually by males over 30 and post-menopausal females.
Don’t be lax if it is normal for 20 years. The next year Ferritin could triple. If you are of Northern European descent, males test annually after age 30, women after age 40.
Gene tests can be run, but most doctors will not order them. If however, Hemochromatosis has been diagnosed in your family tree, parents should gene test so they know if their child should be monitored. Yep – even children can have this.
Or Order Your Own Blood Test
You can order an Iron Panel (or any other blood work) at a consumer lab such as Life Extension. The prices are excellent. Here’s their Ferritin test for $21. You need the Iron Saturation Test too, also $21. You can go to any local lab they serve.
The Wrong Test for Iron Overload
Hematocrit, Hemoglobin, Iron and RBC’s (Red Blood Cells) do NOT indicate iron overload, genetic or not. Our body closely regulates the amount of iron IN cells. It is the excess oxidising iron stored in body tissues we must check by Ferritin and Iron Saturation %.
What is the Correct Range for Ferritin?
Here’s the big area of debate….
As a Clinical Nutritionist, I have never used “normal” lab ranges. They are, for the most part, averages with a large Bell Curve. Ideal health is seldom at the edges of a Bell Curve.
Iron Overload does not get the respect it deserves. Doctors acknowledge it can be fatal at numbers in the thousands, and can cause multiple symptoms between 500 and 1000, but they seldom test for it. And they consider lab ranges up to 300 -500 to be “normal”.
Perhaps your doctor prefers to treat joint pain, impotence, gut pain, diabetes, heart and liver disorders with other methods, but why not address them with the simplest test and solution first? Donating blood is (usually) free.
If you have joint pain, liver or heart issues, insist on testing Ferritin yearly
Lab normals vary widely between labs. In researching this, I find some wellness docs set the ideal range at 40 to 70. Lab “normal” ranges for Ferritin average 15 to 300.
TEST FERRITIN BEFORE YOU DONATE BLOOD.
YOU MIGHT ACTUALLY BE ANEMIC.
Curcumin and Turmeric can Block Iron
Turmeric and Curcumin can reduce Iron absorption. In addition to donating blood, this superior quality Curcumin with Bioperine in my online store can help block absorption. NOTE: if you tend to anemia, have heavy periods or are an elite athlete, Curcumin or Turmeric may not be appropriate for you.
Other Symptoms of Iron Overload
I have found multiple lists of possible symptoms on various websites. In addition to the general symptoms, I would place immune issues at the top. Iron is used by various pathogens to form Biofilms, a dangerous grouping of infections hiding in protective “slime”.
I responded almost immediately to my first blood donation with an unexpected reduction in a symptom not on anyone’s list – a nagging occasional cough that was unproductive and not allergy. Has Iron been accumulating in my lungs and my body trying to cough it out??
I also found change in a chronic immune issue I had been struggling with. After donating blood to reduce my mildly elevated Ferritin (250), the immune issue reduced with no other input on my part.
Cancer and other immune conditions are noted on the Hemochromatosis websites I list below.
How do You Treat Hemochromatosis?
The short answer: Give Blood. If your Ferritin is over 400, give blood every 8 weeks (as often as the Red Cross allows). If it is 200 – 300, give blood every 10 to 12 weeks until normal (40 to 70), then donate 2 – 3 times a year. Check Ferritin annually so you don’t get anemic but are giving enough to get under 100. I will write more on how to reduce iron stores if you cannot donate blood in the next article. This Curcumin Extract may reduce iron stores. It’s a potent anti-oxidant too which is greatly needed with the oxidizing effects of excess iron in the body.
More Info on Iron Overload
This excellent article from Dr. Mercola tells all you need to know.
Here’s the American Hemochromatosis website.
Chris Kresser on Hemochromatosis, diabetes and heart disease