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Iron overload can make you very sick

The condition of having too much iron in your body is a common one and yet for many doctors and their patients it is a confusing and complex subject. Everyone knows about iron deficiency, which is common in women, but when it comes to iron excess most people have no idea what it means.

The mineral iron would have to be the most essential mineral to animal life. Three quarters of the body’s total iron content is found inside the red blood cells and is part of a protein (haemoglobin) that enables red cells to carry life giving oxygen to every cell in our body.
Ten to twenty percent of iron is stored in a protein called ferritin. The rest, which is not very much (say 5 to 10% of the total body iron),  is transported around the body on another protein called transferrin and a small amount is free in the blood.

We can do tests to measure all these forms of iron with one simple blood test and this enables us to see if you have too little iron in your body or too much iron in your body or just the right amount! This is important as too little iron will make you weak and anemic and too much iron can cause a lot of diseases including cancer.

The liver has a big role in regulating how much iron is in your body!

The liver makes a hormone called hepcidin, which controls how much iron is absorbed from the intestines. An average normal daily loss of iron from the body over several months is around 1 to 2 milligrams and this loss occurs from loss of intestinal cells and skin cells and in women from menstrual bleeding. To compensate for this daily loss of iron, the liver hormone hepcidin allows 1 to 2 mg of iron to be absorbed from food in the intestines. The balance is carefully controlled by hepcidin and it’s amazing that only 10% of daily dietary iron intake is absorbed. This is important because the body has no mechanism to excrete iron from the body, other than by abnormal bleeding.

To measure your iron levels, you should have your blood taken whilst you are fasting in the morning and do not take any iron supplements for at least 24 hours before your blood test.

What causes too much iron in the body?

Hemochromatosis
The inherited disorder of hemochromatosis causes severe iron excess or overload in the body.

It is caused by an abnormal mutation (known as C282Y) in the HFE gene and you have to have 2 of these to have hemochromatosis. This abnormality causes an increased absorption of iron from the intestines around 3 times that of normal absorption. This occurs because of a deficiency in hepcidin in the liver.

Hemochromatosis is rather common and affects 1 in 200 people of Caucasian race who carry two C282Y mutations on their HFE genes. Another type of gene mutation called H63D can cause iron overload in association with one C282Y mutation but to a much lesser degree.

People with hemochromatosis can suffer severe consequences of iron overload including liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, low sex hormones and a bronzing of the skin colour. The excess iron damages various organs in the body.
It is important to diagnose hemochromatosis early by doing a blood test for the HFE gene mutation and iron studies to check serum iron, ferritin, transferrin saturation and serum iron.

It is possible to prevent the excess iron from causing organ damage by removing blood on a regular basis. The treatment of blood removal is known as venesection. It may take many months or even several years to unload the body of excess iron and the venesections must be done regularly.

Hemochromatosis disease is entirely preventable but a doctor must have a high degree of awareness of hemochromatosis in people of Caucasian descent.

High Ferritin

If the blood test reveals excessively high levels of ferritin this means that the stores of iron in the body are too high. This condition is much more common than hemochromatosis, which can be excluded by doing the test for the C282Y mutation in the HFE gene. If this mutation is not present then the cause of the high iron stores (ferritin) is not hemochromatosis. Only 10% of cases of high ferritin are caused by hemochromatosis.

The most common causes of high ferritin are –

  • Syndrome X and fatty liver caused by high insulin levels
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Problems with the immune system causing excess inflammation
  • Excess alcohol intake

If blood tests show your ferritin levels are between 300 to 1000 mcg/L, you have too much iron stored in your body and you could have any or several of the above causes.
If your blood ferritin levels are below 1000mcg/L and you do not have hereditary hemochromatosis there is not a high risk of liver damage from iron overload. If your blood ferritin levels are above 1000mcg/L you should be referred to a liver specialist (hepatologist) as you have an increased risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Many people with high ferritin levels are excellent candidates to become a regular blood donor as this can safely reduce the high ferritin levels. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate referral to the Red Cross Blood Service in your country.

Recently I had a male patient, born in 1959, who was a heavy chronic drinker and who was overweight with high insulin levels and a fatty liver. His liver enzymes were way too high reflecting liver inflammation and his blood ferritin levels were moderately elevated at 650mcg/L. He decided to get healthy as he did not feel well and had a family history of cancer and autoimmune disease.

I started him on the diet in my book titled Fatty Liver – You can reverse it and a powerful liver formula. He also quit all alcohol as he was very worried he would get cancer as several of his family members had died from.  He also decided to become a blood donor.

Within 6 months all his blood tests were normal with completely normal liver enzymes and a ferritin level well below 300mcg/L. He had also lost a considerable amount of weight especially from around his abdominal area.

We can greatly reduce our risk of liver disease, cancer and diabetes by improving the liver function. I also encourage those with high blood ferritin levels to become a regular blood donor – this may add many years to your life.

12 comments

  1. I was recently diagnosed with hemochromatosis and my ferritin levels is 1789 how dangerous is this level

    • Hi Michael,

      We recommend you consult with your healthcare practitioner.
      You may benefit from taking
      Livatone Plus – 2 capsules twice daily, to improve liver function.

      N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC 600mg) – 2 capsules twice daily well away from food, if any upset occurs take at the beginning of your meals. This supplement works well with Livatone Plus to get your liver better faster. This supplement hastens liver healing. This supplement is the precursor nutrient of glutathione; the body’s strongest anti-oxidant.

      Magnesium Ultrapotent – ½ teaspoon twice daily in a little water.
      or
      Magnesium Complete – 2 tablets twice daily.

      MSM + Vitamin C – ½ to 1 teaspoon twice daily in vegetable juice or water to reduce oxidation, inflammation and boost liver health. Remember to take this one well away from red meats and other iron rich foods.
      These supplements can be purchased here: https://shop.liverdoctor.com/
      Let us know how you get on.

      Kind Regards,
      Jessah Robinson
      Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

  2. Hey,

    My PCP ordered labs during my annual check-up. My ferritin was 353. He referred me to a hematologist and he ordered labs. My ferritin had increased to 430. The test confirmed that I do not have the Hemochromatosis gene. My platelets were low and my glucose was elevated. I’m also experiencing dizziness, blacking out, inflammation from hip to ankle on my right side, stabbing pains upper right abdominal, and heart palpitations.

    The hematologist doesn’t seem concerned since I don’t have the hemochromatosis gene but I’m exhausted and concerned since I’m having additional symptoms.

    • Hi Tracy,

      High ferritin can be caused by a number of different disorders.
      If your serum iron is either low or not elevated then the high ferritin may be an indication of inflammation, usually in the liver itself but may also be associated with pain in body, often joints.
      To lower this ferritin, it is important to remove all gluten, sugar, sodas, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, processed and take-out foods from your diet. You are encouraged to have 2 cups of fresh vegetable juice to flush your liver and body with powerful alkalinising antioxidant nutrients.

      Dr Cabot recommends you begin taking

      Livatone Plus – 2 capsules twice daily, to improve liver function.

      N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC 600mg) – 2 capsules twice daily well away from food, if any upset occurs take at the beginning of your meals. This supplement works well with Livatone Plus to get your liver better faster. This supplement hastens liver healing. This supplement is the precursor nutrient of glutathione; the body’s strongest anti-oxidant.

      Magnesium Ultrapotent – ½ teaspoon twice daily in a little water.
      or
      Magnesium Complete – 2 tablets twice daily.

      MSM + Vitamin C – ½ to 1 teaspoon twice daily in vegetable juice or water to reduce oxidation, inflammation and boost liver health. Remember to take this one well away from red meats and other iron rich foods.

      Let us know how you get on.

      Kind Regards,
      Jessah Robinson
      Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

  3. Hi, I have NASH and my liver levels are going up into the hundreds recently up to 495 but the last one seems to going down to 295 for one of the liver bloods tests, not sure which one. I also have ferritin levels just over 1000, so I will be referred to a gastroenterologist soon hopefully, but after reading on the internet, I’m worried about the ferritin levels making my liver worse. Should I give blood to get them down a bit now?… as well as taking my livertone plus capsules as well as cleaning up my diet and I’ve just bought some Theracurmin today which the pharmacist told me today is a better curcumin as it is more Bioavailable apparently? I don’t have hemochromatosis but I am a carrier.

    • Hi Michelle,

      High ferritin can be caused by a number of disorders.

      If it is combined with high iron in the blood, then we suggest you have gene tests to determine if you carry any of the hemochromatosis genes, and if so you are best to have a pint of blood removed every 3 months to keep iron load in check. A diet low in red meat and vitamin c supplements at least 4 hours away from any high iron containing meal.

      If your serum iron is either low or not elevated then the high ferritin may be an indication of inflammation, usually in the liver itself but may also be associated with pain in body, often joints.
      To lower this ferritin, it is important to remove all gluten, sugar, sodas, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, processed and take-out foods from your diet. You are encouraged to have 2 cups of fresh vegetable juice to flush your liver and body with powerful alkalinising antioxidant nutrients.

      Dr Cabot recommends you begin taking

      Livatone Plus – 2 capsules twice daily, to improve liver function.

      N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC 600mg) – 2 capsules twice daily well away from food, if any upset occurs take at the beginning of your meals. This supplement works well with Livatone Plus to get your liver better faster. This supplement hastens liver healing. This supplement is the precursor nutrient of glutathione; the body’s strongest anti-oxidant.

      Magnesium Ultrapotent – ½ teaspoon twice daily in a little water.
      or
      Magnesium Complete – 2 tablets twice daily.

      MSM + Vitamin C – ½ to 1 teaspoon twice daily in vegetable juice or water to reduce oxidation, inflammation and boost liver health. Remember to take this one well away from red meats and other iron rich foods.
      Let us know how you get on.

      Kind Regards,
      Jessah Robinson
      Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

  4. Hi,
    My blood test is high in ferritin level (600 mcg/L) and it is not genetic as per another blood test done. Can I get high ferritin level due to my diet? Assuming the water I’m drinking in our area got very high iron composition maybe due to contamination working in iron ore mining area?

    • Hi Jorge,

      High ferritin can be caused by a number of disorders.

      If it is combined with high iron in the blood, then we suggest you have gene tests to determine if you carry any of the hemochromatosis genes, and if so you are best to have a pint of blood removed every 3 months to keep iron load in check. A diet low in red meat and vitamin c supplements at least 4 hours away from any high iron containing meal.

      If your serum iron is either low or not elevated then the high ferritin may be an indication of inflammation, usually in the liver itself but may also be associated with pain in body, often joints.
      To lower this ferritin, it is important to remove all gluten, sugar, sodas, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, processed and take-out foods from your diet. You are encouraged to have 2 cups of fresh vegetable juice to flush your liver and body with powerful alkalinising antioxidant nutrients.
      Dr Cabot recommends you begin taking

      Livatone Plus – 2 capsules twice daily, to improve liver function.

      N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC 600mg) – 2 capsules twice daily well away from food, if any upset occurs take at the beginning of your meals. This supplement works well with Livatone Plus to get your liver better faster. This supplement hastens liver healing. This supplement is the precursor nutrient of glutathione; the body’s strongest anti-oxidant.
      These supplements can be purchased here: https://shop.liverdoctor.com/
      Let us know how you get on.

      Kind Regards,
      Jessah Robinson
      Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

      • Hi,
        Thanks for the rpely, actually here is the note from the doctor as he requested for me to see another specialist:
        “Persistent elevated ferittin level”
        “Negative screen for haemochromatosis gene”
        “Latest ferritin 625 (increasing)”

        Regular blood donation, will help? But can I still donate my blood even though it is high in ferritn level?

        • Hi Jorge,

          They will test your blood before they use it.

          Kind Regards,
          Jessah Robinson
          Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

  5. can I develop hemochromatosis by taking too much iron to correct anemia

    • Hi Rich,

      Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease.
      If you are concerned about your iron levels, we recommend you get a blood test.

      Kind Regards,
      Jessah Robinson
      Nutritional Consultant for Liverdoctor.com

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