Hemochromatosis: what’s the big deal with too much iron?

Iron is essential in the body. It is key for distribution of oxygen throughout the body so that we can efficiently create and utilize energy. Our bodies keep iron levels tightly regulated within a strict range. Iron has a “goldilocks” range- not too much, not too little, but just the right amount. This is important because, while iron is essential, too much can be damaging to the body via oxidation. Many things can tip the scale even with our bodies’ best efforts to keep this mineral within that “goldilocks” range. Scale tipping factors include genetics, inadequate intake, malnutrition, inflammation, chronic disease, and more.  

For individuals with Hemochromatosis, their genetics tend to tip the scale towards too much iron- also known as iron overload. This can cause a great deal of damage. The genes associated with hemochromatosis are constantly allowing more iron to be absorbed into the body. And unfortunately, hemochromatosis or not, our bodies do not have a mechanism to eliminate iron when there is excess. The excess iron that is not utilized for daily functions accumulates in the body and causes damage through oxidation. 

(The mechanism of iron absorption in hemochromatosis will be further explained in our next post…. stay tuned).

What is oxidation? 

On a biochemical level, oxidation is the process by which an atom or group of atoms loses electrons. When a molecule is missing an electron it can create damage. Browning of fruits or the rusting of iron are examples of oxidation- definitely not great things to have happen inside your body!

Why is oxidation bad for the body?

Oxidation is a normal process that happens within the body and the environment.  Our bodies have antioxidant systems to combat oxidation.  However, when our bodies start to shift to a more oxidative state, as happens with iron overload, we can exceed the ability of our antioxidant systems to counterbalance this reaction. This is where we start to create reactive oxygen species which produce oxidative stress. 

…..And especially bad for hemochromatosis patients?

For individuals with hemochromatosis the constant excess iron is like a production line for oxidative stress. Excess iron and oxygen create a never-ending cycle of oxidative stress which leads to our bodies slowly deteriorating. This is what causes hemochromatosis patients to have symptoms of fatigue, low energy, low libido, inflammation, arthritis, joint pain, etc. It can also lead to organ damage in the liver, pancreas, endocrine glands (hormone producing glands), heart, kidney, and brain. 

What can be done to address excess iron for hemochromatosis? 

First, be sure you have a proper diagnosis for hemochromatosis and a thorough exam. This includes a full iron panel (serum iron, ferritin, TIBC, and transferrin saturation) and then a genetic test if the iron panel suggests an overload pattern consistent with hemochromatosis. 

Second, talk to your doctor about getting phlebotomies to decrease iron levels in the body. Remember, the body doesn’t have a natural way to eliminate excess iron. Phlebotomies can aid the body in eliminating excess iron and the oxidation that results from the excess.  

Third, sign up to get your FREE “Essential Dietary tools: A guide for Hemochromatosis” e-book. This e-book will show you the most important dietary tools to utilize daily to minimize absorption of iron in patients with hemochromatosis. You’ll also learn why you don’t want to rely on phlebotomy alone. 

Fourth, eat your antioxidants. To boost antioxidants, think about eating a variety of colors of fruits and veggies. You need to create an environment that counters the oxidation within your body. 

Fifth, strongly consider pursuing an individualized treatment plan that includes tailored antioxidant supplementation, a thorough evaluation of your most vulnerable organs and an assessment of how hemochromatosis may be contributing to symptoms in your body. 

If you are experiencing persistent symptoms even after phlebotomies and implementing our dietary recommendations, need more guidance, like to be proactive in your health or want a more in-depth evaluation of oxidative damage, set up your FREE exploratory consultation with Healing Roots Natural medicine, here. Together we can stop your suffering and enhance your quality of life.

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