Is High Iron Making You Sick?
It’s estimated that 1 out of every 3 Americans has dangerously high iron levels. High iron levels can cause joint pain, fatigue, high blood sugar, and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, nervous system, and liver disease.
Our team is always trying to stay ahead of the curve, and in this instance, I can assure you we are. Most doctors are completely unaware of this danger. When you consider it’s a risk for 33% of our population, it’s profound.
In the arena of root cause medicine and functional medicine, we have known for years that certain levels in the blood were markers for inflammation – they’re called biomarkers. It may very well be the particular marker we’re about to discuss is more the CAUSE of inflammation than an indicator of it – a not so subtle difference.
A Simple Blood Test
A simple blood test of your ferritin (a measure of stored iron) is all that’s required to find out if you are at risk. Treatment is easy, inexpensive, and drug-free.
Is this a new problem for Americans? Relatively speaking, yes. Iron levels in Americans have doubled in the past 40 years. There was a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey performed between 1976 and 1980, at which time ferritin was under 100 ng/ml for Americans, a decent level. Today that score is closer to 200 ng/ml, a level that is causing illness.
While the population at risk is predominantly men and non-menstruating females, pregnant women should monitor their ferritin levels closely and not let them get above 60 or 70. According to Gerry Koenig, former chairman of the Iron Disorders Institute and the Hemochromatosis Foundation, there is evidence to suggest infant mortality levels are influenced by high ferritin.
The U.S. ranks 35th in the world in infant survival – it’s rather unbelievable when you consider the care at our disposal. Is iron a cause? Get checked and avoid iron-containing supplements if you don’t need them.
Concerning about this finding is that most pregnant women are closely monitored for low iron and are readily prescribed it. It may not be needed in many, especially depending on your race.
Not all races are created equal when it comes to storing iron: Blacks and Orientals are at greater risk for excessively high iron levels, while Hispanic-Americans, who demonstrate a better ability to handle iron, live longer than white Americans.
Do you have a recent blood test at your disposal? Look in your recorders for serum (blood) ferritin and GGT, a liver enzyme, which is another good marker of excess iron.
Ideal ferritin levels are between 40 and 60 ng/ml, with 20 to 80 ng/ml considered very good. How do yours look? If they’re over 100, it’s time to do something about it. If they’re over 200 or more; please contact us.
Ideal GGT levels are 9 U/L for women, 16 U/L for men.
Too often, traditional doctors only look for levels on your blood test that are out of range. That won’t work with ferritin – the “normal” levels go up to 400! If a level of over 100 is dangerous, a level of 200 or 300 is guaranteed damage that is occurring. And again, it’s so easy to avoid.
Only heeding out of range won’t work for GGT levels either – lab tests cite the “normal” level up to 60 U/L in women and 65 U/L in men. No wonder we’re missing the presence of this risk factor.
“Women with GGT above 30 U/L have higher risk of cancers — breast cancer, all kinds of cancers — and they will have high risk of autoimmune disease,” Koenig warns.
If your ferritin level is extremely high you also want to be checked for a genetic condition called hemochromatosis, where dangerously high levels of iron can accumulate. A simple blood test will reveal its presence and again, treatment is easy and inexpensive.
If you do have it, however, you want to let your family members know so they too can be checked. Even one copy of the gene puts you at risk, having both copies puts you at high risk of liver disease complications.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, you’re likely suffering from high iron levels.
As doctors, we all learn of the condition of hemochromatosis, but I can almost guarantee you that your doctor doesn’t know the dangers of high ferritin.
It’s too easy to avoid the ill effects of high iron; it’s unnecessary to fall victim to it when a simple blood test will reveal if you’re at risk, and simple treatment can get you back in control.
Some doctors are so ignorant of the importance of ferritin they won’t even check it for you. We can help; just let us know you’re having trouble getting tested. Most insurance companies cover the test readily and even if you had to pay for it, it’s not expensive – your health is worth it.
What are the causes of excessively high iron levels?
We create energy by burning food, primarily carbohydrates and fat, combined with oxygen. The oxygen is converted to water the vast majority of the time, about 95%. The other 5% is converted to something called ROS (reactive oxygen species) – something you don’t want.
Excessively high iron levels in your blood causes you NOT to produce water but rather these ROS substances, which are destructive free radicals. They damage your body in many substantial ways, especially escalating liver, heart disease, and cancer. It is excess iron that causes this.
What’s worse is when you combine the typical high sugar American diet with excessively high iron levels – the sugar will increase iron absorption. The combination accelerates the initiation and progression of most degenerative diseases.
The problem is slowed with a nice, healthy antioxidant status (think fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes); it’s accelerated with a diet high in iron and sugar.
In my blog post warning of the dangers of meat and cancer, I pointed out the cancer-causing effects of heme iron (found in animal flesh) and the cancer-protecting effects of non-heme iron (found in plants).
Supporting that association we find the body is “designed” to not overly absorb non-heme iron (elemental iron) – isn’t that interesting? So don’t worry about high iron in plant foods; that’s not the problem.
Where’s the iron coming from? We “enrich” our food with iron. We, along with Canada, put more iron into our grains and flour than any other country – 44 parts per million. The U.K. uses about 16 parts per million, still likely more than is needed for most. Denmark ended mandatory iron fortification of their foods.
Men in Crete apparently enjoy very low ferritin (68) and great longevity. None of their food is enriched with iron and the Mediterranean diet tends to be rich in healthy vegetables, fruit, legumes, and fats, yielding high anti-oxidant status.
What should you do?
- Get tested, both ferritin and GGT levels. If you need assistance let us know.
- Know what your numbers should be for both ferritin and GGT. If they’re not ideal, read on.
- Stop any supplements containing iron.
- Stop any foods enriched with iron.
- Stop eating red meat, organ meats, and shellfish – all high in iron.
- Don’t combine foods high in iron with those high in vitamin C. Orange juice with a steak would be a bad idea. Vitamin C increases iron absorption.
- Utilize phlebotomy as needed to get your ferritin levels into a safe zone. Often, donating blood 2 or 3 times per year is all that’s needed, but it depends on your numbers. It’s an easy way to lower your stored iron and you’ll be doing a good deed for your community simultaneously. There is legislation allowing blood banks to provide therapeutic phlebotomy in the presence of excess iron.
- Those researchers aware of the excess iron problem utilize natural substances such as herb curcumin, green tea extract, and IP-6 (a form of inositol or vitamin B6), to chelate or pull stored iron from your body.
- Retest annually, if not more often, to monitor your levels.
Statistically speaking 1/3 of all the people you know suffer from high iron levels and it’s putting them at risk for preventable diseases –
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Autoimmune disease
I hope this was helpful. Please share this blog post so we can increase awareness of something that is so easily treated, yet creates devastating, life-shortening illnesses.
If your health is not where you want it to be and you’re confused about what to do, we can help.
Contact us for a consultation – Call (727) 335-0400.
If you are not local to us you can still receive help, our Clearwater medical clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally.
We help the world’s busiest people regain, retain, and reclaim their health, energy, and resilience.
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