Have you been told that you’re anemic and automatically think you need more iron? Anemia does not always mean you need iron. AND, what about too much iron? A few years ago, my iron levels were off the chart! The reason – lead toxicity.
Iron is necessary to carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and for other cellular functions. Zinc, copper, iron, manganese and molybdenum oppose and cooperate with one another. If there is an increase or decrease in any of these minerals, there is probably an increase or decrease in one or more of the other minerals.
Stress and sleep deprivation can temporarily cause lower serum iron levels. A desire to chew ice, eat chalk or dirt, and an inability to tolerate cold weather are common factors with iron anemia. Symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nocturnal leg cramps, and spoon-shaped finger/toe nails with ridges in nails. Fifty percent of infant anemia is often an allergic condition caused by pasteurized milk that can cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
Possibilities of Decreased serum iron include:
- B12 and/or B6 deficiency
- Parasites (very common) and/or Candida
- Gut dysfunction. Intestinal inflammation.
- Excessive blood loss from heavy menses
- Metforim (Rx drug used to treat type 2 diabetes)
- Low HCL – hypochlorhydria
- Excess of: aspirin use; fluoride; zinc; calcium (inhibits iron absorption)
- Long distance runners
- H. Pylori
- Rheumatoid arthritis; Lupus (autoimmune disease)
- Poor diet (too much sugar and starchy foods)
- Vegetarian diets
- Tyrosine deficiency, a commonly overlooked problem seen in elderly patients living on the “tea & toast diet” (lack of daily protein intake).
Fiber (phytate), tannins found in tea, coffee, purple grapes, rice, walnuts and cocoa inhibit iron absorption. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) increases iron absorption. To improve iron absorption, increase intake of organic and grass-fed red meat, eggs, (especially yolks), spinach and leafy greens.
A large majority of individuals are deficient in hydrochloric acid (HCL). HCL helps absorb supplemental iron and it also helps your body to achieve once-normal body iron. When you take Digestzymes with meals, you no longer need to take continuous iron supplementation.
As you can see from above, inability to absorb iron is often the most obvious symptom of a much broader problem.
What about too much iron? Because of the health risks associated with high levels of iron, all men and women over 40 should have their iron levels tested. Excess iron is a PRO-oxidant and a free radical initiator. Elevated iron also accelerates the aging process. Symptoms of iron overload may include lack of energy, joint pain, diminished sex drive, abdominal pain, memory and heart problems.
Alcohol and prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives, can increase iron levels.
Iron overload is a silent killer that can result in:
- Free radical disease, oxidative stress and cellular aging (increased ferritin or increased iron are known free radical initiators that damage neurons in the brain)
- Endocrine problems
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Liver cirrhosis
- Bacterial infections
If you have high iron levels:
Avoid cast-iron cookware and instead use stainless steel
Avoid raw shellfish – it may contain a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus that can be deadly to people with high iron levels.
Avoid foods with added iron, ferrous or ferric (read ingredients list)
Avoid all supplements with iron
Consume foods high in copper such as oysters and shrimp. Copper deficiency causes our tissues to retain excess iron.
Decrease red meat consumption and foods high in iron
Donate blood to lower and remove excess iron, especially if the serum ferritin value is >100 or the transferrin saturation value is >35%.
Drink coffee with iron-rich foods to reduce iron's toxic effects
Look at liver function
Supplement with 400 I.U. of vitamin E
Rule out lead toxicity
Rule out zinc deficiency with the zinc taste test
Tests to determine iron values: Serum iron (optimal ranges are 50-100 mcg/dL). Fasting serum iron and total iron binding capacity (TIBC) are used to calculate the TS% (transferrin-iron saturation percentage). TIBC percent of saturation is the gold standard lab test for the diagnosis of iron overload. A practical way to determine how much iron a person has in his body is to use blood tests called "serum ferritin" and "transferrin saturation." TIBC is frequently increased with the use of exogenous estrogen. Serum ferritin measures the amount of stored iron in the liver, spleen and bone marrow, and is the second most abundant iron-bearing protein in the body. If your ferritin levels are low, it means your iron levels are also low.
If your test results indicate iron levels that are too high or too low, contact me and I will determine why your iron, ferritin and TIBC are out of range and balance and restore your iron values to a healthier level.
Copyright © Paula Owens
- Baer DM, Simons JL, Staples RL, Runmore GJ, Morton CJ. Hemochromatosis screening in asymptomatic ambulatory men 30 years of age and older. Am J Med 1995; 98: 464-8.
- Herbert V, Shaw S, Jayatilleke E, Stopler-Kasdan T. Most free-radical injury is iron-related: it is promoted by iron, hemin, holoferritin and vitamin C, and inhibited by desferoxamine and apoferritin. Stem Cells 1994; 12: 289-303.
- Herbert V. Everyone should be tested for iron disorders. J Am Diet Assoc 1992; 92: 1502-9