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Hemochromatosis

What is hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a disorder of iron regulation – it is an inherited disease where excess “free” iron is deposited in various organs including the liver. It is ‘free’ because it is not bound tightly to carrier proteins which would otherwise prevent it from damaging cells. The problem is that because of the chemical properties of iron, it cannot be broken down and eliminated from the body. Therefore this situation leads to iron overload in the body.The abnormal regulation of iron absorption is believed to occur in the gut (duodenum). The excess iron accumulates over a long period of time. Early diagnosis is important as the iron excess is stored gradually over a lifetime, therefore the earlier it is detected, the less chance of development of cirrhosis and liver cancer.The condition tends to occur more commonly in men – this is likely to be due to the fact that women have monthly blood loss due to menstruation and lower intake of iron in the diet. It is often a silent disorder that is commonly picked up in younger persons during routine blood work investigating other symptoms. However, as iron slowly accumulates over the years other complaints may arise such as osteoarthritis and digestive complaints. Biologically iron exists in two states: ferrous or ferric. Free iron in its ferrous state is very toxic to living creatures. The presence of this excess iron creates unstable molecules called “free radicals”. It is these free radicals that damage cells and tissues which can lead to inflammation, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), diabetes, spleen, pancreas, cardiac problems and cancerous cell changes.

How do you get this disease?

Hemochromatosis is an inherited condition. This means it is passed on down a family line. Similar to blond hair or blue eyes. The disease may be passed on when 2 people who are carriers of the gene for the condition have a child. There is then a chance that this child may have an active form of the disease. The parents and any unaffected children are carriers of only one gene and will not generally develop problems related to excess storage of iron, however they may still have the tendency and should still implement preventative nutritional strategies to protect their liver.

Who should be tested for this condition?

If you have been diagnosed with this condition it is wise to have your blood relatives screened – and your spouse if you plan to have children.

Orthodox treatment

Treatment of hemochromatosis consists of venesections (removal of blood, similar to a blood donation). Venesection prolongs the life and may assist in reversal and prevention of tissue damage. The amount of iron overload that you have will regulate how often you will have a venesection, but treatment is usually weekly for at least 18 months, with life-long follow-up.

What are the symptoms of Hemochromatosis?

  • Persistent fatigue/tiredness
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Swollen liver/raised liver enzymes
  • Joint pains
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Bronzed colouration to the skin (due to melanin deposition)

The triad of bronze skin, enlarged liver and diabetes mellitus is only present in cases of gross iron overload. Hemochromatosis can lead to a dysfunctional liver that is most likely a little inflamed – and very possibly fatty due to the high iron levels stressing this important organ The course of the disease depends on a number of factors including sex, dietary iron intake, presence of associated hepato toxins (especially alcohol).

Excerpt from The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book”
“An average person has around one gram of iron in their body, whereas a sufferer of hemochromatosis can store around twenty grams, enough to set off airport metal detectors in severe cases! The reason it is often not detected until permanent damage has already occurred, is because it may not produce any early symptoms, and when it does, the symptoms may be vague and diverse and attributed to other causes. For example, when the disease is at its most treatable, sufferers are often teenagers, or in their 20s and 30s, and complain of fatigue, abdominal discomfort and aches and pains. These things may be mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome or viral illness. If the disease progresses undiagnosed, toxic iron levels will build up in the liver, pancreas, heart, skin and joints leading to severe damage in these organs. In the late stages of untreated hemochromatosis a sufferer has a 200- fold higher risk of liver cancer than a normal person does and the only option is a liver transplant.”

Tests

The test used to diagnose hemochromatosis is the HFE gene analysis for C282Y mutation. This requires a blood sample.

How do we reduce free radical production?

Free radicals are ‘mopped up’ and put out of action by ‘antioxidants’. These powerful protectors of the cells are found in fresh fruits and vegetables. They can also be obtained in therapeutic amounts from supplements. Minerals and vitamins with powerful antioxidant capabilities are selenium and natural vitamin E. These two actually work together to provide excellent protection for cells. Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder so it is something that has to be managed. Suffers should take care to avoid liver stress.
From a nutritional medicine standpoint – the aim is to support the liver function and provide protection to the liver cells from the free radicals generated.
Excerpt from “The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book”
“Eating foods high in iron may worsen the disease but will not cause it, as the problem is a genetic disorder of iron metabolism. Indeed, iron is so widespread in foods that it is virtually impossible to avoid it and by trying to do this, you could develop nutritional deficiencies. However, sufferers would be wise to avoid a regular intake of red meats and organ meats. Patients can enjoy a normal and varied diet, along the principles of the Liver Cleansing Diet, provided they have their blood removed regularly. They must be monitored with regular blood tests under the supervision of a specialist (hematologist).”

Diet

  • Follow the principles of eating outlined on pages 20-27 of “The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book”  and make these principles a way of life.
  • Minimise the intake of foods which are especially high in iron – these include the offal meats – liver, heart and kidney: and foods prepared from these such as pate, liverwurst and haggis. Also black pudding – which is made from pig’s blood. Oysters and mussels – especially raw oysters, as these may carry the hepatitis A virus.
  • Avoid foods fortified with iron – Many breakfast cereal are fortified with iron, so read the ingredients list on the pack. Iron may be listed as MINERAL (IRON) or as an iron salt e.g. FERROUS PYROPHOSPHATE. Some chocolate powder drinks are also fortified, along with sports drinks, and baby cereals and formulae. It is recommended that you do not consume either high dietary iron foods or iron fortified foods as part of your regular diet.
  • Avoid supplements or tonics containing iron.
  • Use caution with alcohol – the recommended level is a maximum of 4 – 5 standard drinks a week.
  • Avoid vitamin C supplements – which turns iron into a more toxic form.  Alcohol and Vitamin C enhance iron uptake.
  • For curry lovers it is advisable to avoid ‘balti’ curries cooked in traditional cast iron pots. These meals can contain more iron than the most iron rich foods such as liver.

General recommendations

  • If you want to improve liver function you must avoid ALL dairy products – dairy foods contain high levels of antibiotics, steroids and artificial growth hormones, as this is what the herds are treated with in today’s high tech dairies to prevent disease and boost milk production. As with humans where substances go through into breast milk it is the same for cattle – only they neglect to tell you this in the advertisements when they are telling you how great milk is. If you need further info on this please visit www.notmilk.com
  • Avoid ALL margarines and similar type spreads
  • Avoid deep fried and fatty foods.
  • Limit chicken and turkey that is not free range, as this contains artificial growth hormones, antibiotics and steroids that increase the liver’s workload.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners

Recommended books

  •  “The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book”- Follow the principles for a healthy liver outlined on pages 20 – 27. This book is essential reading for anyone with liver dysfunction and contains sections on fatty liver, liver function tests, hemochromatosis and high cholesterol, etc . These principles of eating need to be followed as a way of life.
  • “Raw Juices Can Save your Life”

Raw juicing

Juices are vitally important as a source of powerful antioxidants. It is good to use both whole fruits and vegetables in the diet as well as the juices, as the juices provide an easily absorbable form of nutraceuticals that are very beneficial for the liver. Lots of useful and delicious recipes can be found in “Raw Juices Can Save Your Life” book.

Recommended supplements:

Livatone Plus Powder or Livatone Plus Capsules

  • Take 1 teaspoon stirred in water or juice twice daily, or take 2 capsules twice daily.  A combination of St Mary’s Thistle, B vitamins and Taurine and natural anti-oxidants play a vital role in promoting a more vigorous liver detoxification required after toxic overload.
  • Take 2 tablets twice daily or 1 teaspoon twice daily in water or raw juice.  Selenium has been found to be effective in reducing liver inflammation and is a strong antioxidant. This is important to assist in mopping up free radical production.

Organic Flaxseed oil

  • Take daily.  Flaxseed is a source of essential fatty acids which is what the liver cell membranes are comprised of – therefore ensuring adequate intake of good quality cold pressed oils will assist in repair of the liver cell membranes. Salmon, tuna, mackerel are also good sources, as is avocado – you can use this as a spread.
  • Take 2 – 3 capsules daily with food – Bone thinning is more common with liver disease, particularly hemochromatosis. Good advice includes walking (weight bearing exercise), diet to include calcium rich foods. Non dairy sources of calcium rich foods are listed in “The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book”
  • Many sufferers of arthritis and fibromyalgia take glucosamine, which helps to maintain and repair joint cartilage. If we add some herbs to reduce inflammation in the joints this will provide a much greater degree of pain relief than glucosamine by itself.

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THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FDA AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT OR CURE ANY DISEASES.