Iron is an essential mineral that is required by every human being to perform some major physiological functions in the body. It can be obtained through various food sources and prescribed supplements or fortified foods. Iron is an integral component of haemoglobin that helps in transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
Dietary iron comes in two forms- heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is derived from animal food sources like chicken, sea food, eggs, turkey, and meat. Non-heme iron is derived from plant-based sources like nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews), seeds (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli), and grains (wheat, brown rice, jowar).
But, do you know that an overdose of iron is possible too? High levels of iron is potentially toxic to the body and getting too much of it should be avoided. There is a regulatory hormone in the body known as Hepcidin which keeps the iron levels in a balanced state inside the body. The basic function of hepcidin is to suppress the absorption of iron. There are few disorders that suppress the production of iron leading to the overloading of iron.
The overload of iron is medically known as Hemochromatosis. It can be caused because of some medical conditions like-
Primary Hemochromatosis – Primary hemochromatosis is also known as hereditary hemochromatosis. It is a genetic disorder that causes body to absorb too much of iron from the diet. Mutations in several genes can cause hereditary hemochromatosis. This condition is also known as Iron Overload Disorder. Primary Hemochromatosis is further of four types
Type 1 & Type 4– Ferroportin Disease- It generally begins in adulthood. It affects males at an age of 40-50, while woman can experience this condition after menopause.
Type 2- Juvenile onset Disorder- This condition begins in childhood. It can lead to delayed puberty in males and absent periods in females. If Type 2 primary hemochromatosis is not treated in time, it can lead to the development of some fatal heart disease.
Type 3 – It is the intermediate type of primary hemochromatosis that generally begins before the age of 30.
Secondary Hemochromatosis- Secondary hemochromatosis is also known as Acquired Iron Overload. It occurs when there is excess absorption of iron due to certain reasons like-
- Excess iron dosage to treat anaemia
- Repeated blood transfusions
- Prolonged iron oral therapy
- Excess dietary iron
- Certain disorders like liver cirrhosis, haemodialysis, and alcohol abuse.
The main symptoms of hemochromatosis are
- Lack of energy
- Heart flutters
- Brain fog
- Loss of body hair
- Loss of libido
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Nutritional Solutions to prevent and manage Hemochromatosis
- Heme Iron is more bioavailable than non-heme iron. The better bioavailability means better iron absorption. So if you present with the symptoms of hemochromatosis- choose plant based irons sources instead of animal products.
- Avoid consuming too much of iron rich foods like legumes, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, leafy greens, quinoa, apricots, dates, figs, prunes, chicken, meat and eggs.
- Phytic acid is a compound that inhibits iron absorption. So, you can consume phytic acid rich foods like- beans, peas, sesame seeds, peanuts, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, wheat bran and wheat germ (whole wheat).
- Reduce the consumption of red meat.
- Limit the intake of Vitamin C rich foods as Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. So, you need to limit the intake of oranges, lemon, kiwi, amla, tomato, broccoli, and other citrus fruits.
- Completely avoid sugar consumption
- Avoid consuming shellfish as it can be really harmful to those suffering from hemochromatosis.
- Alcohol consumption also enhances iron absorption to an extent. Limit the intake.
- Do not restrict the intake of fruits and vegetables as they contain other important antioxidants too apart from some iron. You can limit the intake of dark green leafy vegetables to once a week.
- Limit the intake of dark chocolate too.
Over to you
If you suffer from any of the symptoms of hemochromatosis, you should consider getting yourself tested first as this condition comes with noticeable health consequences. And do not avoid/limit iron intake unless you have consulted a qualified expert.