I recently had a call from one of our clients sharing her concern over her very high iron level. While many lab tests are overrated or unnecessary, there are a few that are vitally important, one of which is vitamin D, which I recommend checking at least twice a year, and the other, which I want to focus on, is serum ferritin.
Serum ferritin measures stored iron and by monitoring your serum ferritin and taking steps to lower it if it’s too high you can avoid serious health problems.
For adults, I strongly recommend getting a serum ferritin test on an annual basis. When it comes to iron overload, I believe it can be every bit as dangerous to your health as vitamin D deficiency.
Iron Overload Is More Common Than Iron Deficiency
Iron is one of the most common nutritional supplements. Not only can you get it as an isolated supplement, but it’s also added to most multivitamins and many processed foods. While iron is necessary for biological function when you get too much it can do tremendous harm.
Unfortunately, the first thing people think about when they hear “iron” is anemia, or iron deficiency, not realizing that iron overload is a more common problem, and far more dangerous. Many doctors don’t understand or appreciate the importance of checking for iron overload.
Virtually all adult men and postmenopausal women are at risk for iron overload due to inefficient iron excretion since they do not lose blood on a regular basis. Blood loss is the primary way to lower excess iron as the body has no active excretion mechanisms. Another common cause of excess iron is the regular consumption of alcohol which will increase the absorption of any iron in your diet.
For instance, if you drink wine with your steak, you will likely absorb more iron than you need. There’s also an inherited disease, hemochromatosis, which causes your body to accumulate excessive and dangerously damaging levels of iron.
If left untreated, high iron can contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and many other health problems, including gouty arthritis. Iron causes all this harm by catalyzing a reaction within the inner mitochondrial membrane. When iron reacts with hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl free radicals are formed. These are among the most damaging free radicals known, causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn is at the heart of most chronic degenerative diseases.
Why Excess Iron Is So Dangerous
Iron can react with hydrogen peroxide in the inner mitochondrial membrane. This is a normal part of cellular aerobic respiration. But when you have excessive iron, it catalyzes the formation of excessive hydroxyl free radicals from the peroxide, which decimate your mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial electron transport proteins and cellular membranes. This is how iron overload accelerates chronic disease.
If you eat excessive net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) the situation is further exacerbated, as burning carbs as your primary fuel can add another 30 to 40 percent more ROS on top of the hydroxyl free radicals generated by the presence of high iron. Unfortunately, most people reading this are burning carbs as their primary fuel.
Your best bet is to lower the production of ROS. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is to eat a diet high in healthy fats, adequate in protein and low in net carbs. Eating healthy fats can make a bigger difference than you might think, especially if you have high iron.
How to Lower Your Iron
The good news is it’s easy to lower your iron level if it’s too high. One of the easiest ways is simply to donate blood two or three times a year. If you have severe overload you may need to do more regular phlebotomies.
As it turns out, an effective detoxification program can lower iron as well. While I’ve long recommended donating blood as the solution to iron overload, I now believe a balanced approach using phlebotomy, detoxification and reducing dietary iron, especially meat, is the best way to go about it.
Keep in mind that trying to control high iron through your diet alone can be risky, as you will also forgo many valuable nutrients. That said, to avoid maximizing iron absorption, avoid eating iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, as the vitamin C will increase iron absorption. If needed, you could also take a curcumin supplement. Curcumin acts as a potent chelator of iron and can be a useful supplement if your iron is elevated.
Blood Donations Lead to Radical Reduction in Disease
A number of epidemiological studies have also documented a significant reduction in chronic diseases among those who donate blood two or three times a year — findings that support the notion that iron overload is prevalent and contributes to chronic disease. In some, heart disease and cancer were reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Unfortunately, many doctors are still unaware of the importance of checking for iron overload (based on ideal levels and not what’s considered normal.
If you’re concerned about maintaining your health and preventing chronic disease, I would strongly encourage you to get a ferritin test regularly (we can assist you with that) and if needed, implement the strategies discussed above to get them into their optimal ranges.
Remember, serum ferritin is a marker for iron toxicity, which is a major, mostly unrecognized, contributor to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and many other chronic diseases. High iron even increases your risk of infections so you really don’t want to check into a hospital with high iron, as your risk of contracting a hospital-acquired infection will be that much greater. The good news though is that your body has been “fearfully and wonderfully made” and you have the power to easily turn high iron levels around.
Once again, if serum ferritin is elevated, you need to take action. The treatment couldn’t be simpler. Unless you’re a menstruating woman, simply donate blood two to three times a year. If you do not qualify to donate blood, ask your doctor to write you a prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy. And if you’re wanting assistance or further discussion, just give our office a call.
We are here to help assist you in regaining “the best performance of your life!
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