What causes very high iron levels?

Written by elizabeth streeter
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An essential mineral, iron plays an important role in the human body's everyday maintenance, from transporting oxygen throughout the body to regulating cell growth. An excess of this mineral can lead to significant health problems. Unfortunately, many are unaware of their very high iron levels until they exhibit symptoms.

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Symptoms

High iron absorption causes excess iron to be stored in the organs, eventually leading to iron overload. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue and heart problems. If you continue to absorb too much iron, it can cause arthritis, liver disease, heart problems and early menopause in women.

Heredity

Primary hemochromatosis is a hereditary disease that affects approximately one million people in the United States, says the Cleveland Clinic. The most common cause is a defect in the HFE gene, a gene that regulates iron absorption. Even people with one copy of the HFE gene may absorb extra iron. Healthy adults typically absorb around 10 per cent of iron from food. People with this disease absorb up to three times more iron than a normal, healthy adult. Secondary hemochromatosis is hemochromatosis caused by other disease. These diseases could include sideroblastic anaemia, aceruloplasminemia and chronic hepatitis C.

Food and Supplements

Eating too much red meat may also contribute to iron overload. Red meats such as beef and lamb contain high amounts of iron, specifically heme iron, the most absorbable form. Fruit juices may also contribute. These juices are sometimes a source of vitamin C, which can further enhance the absorption of iron. Supplements sometimes cause people who aren't iron deficient to develop very high iron levels.

Treatments

Physicians treat high iron levels in two main ways. Phlebotomy is the treatment of choice for those with hemochromatosis. This process involves removing blood from the body. The body becomes mildly anaemic and uses the iron stored in organs to compensate. Chelation is the other choice for iron removal. A medicine is either taken orally or injected. The medicine binds to excess iron and routes it outside the body.

Warning

Take iron supplement only under the care of a physician. She will check your iron levels, determining if you actually need a supplement, ensuring that you don't take too much. High iron levels can contribute cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

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