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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News article] Why excess iron can be dangerous

Why excess iron can be dangerous.

From the 15 January 2015 article at The Conversation

Campaigns tell us to eat red meat to keep our iron levels up – but what if we have too much? tarale

Many people are aware that low levels of iron in their body can lead anaemia, with symptoms such as fatigue. But few realise that too much iron can result in a potentially fatal condition.

Normally, if we have enough iron in our body, then no further iron is absorbed from the diet, and our iron levels remain relatively constant.

But the body also has no way of excreting excess iron. In a condition called hereditary haemochromatosis, the most common cause of iron overload, the mechanism to detect sufficient iron in the body is impaired and people can go on absorbing iron beyond the normal required amount.

Untreated, haemochromatosis can result in scarring to the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, damage to the heart and diabetes. These problems are the result of excess iron being deposited in the liver, heart and pancreas. Haemochromatosis can also cause non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, loss of libido and arthritis. In some, it results in a shortened lifespan.

The most common cause of hereditary haemochromatosis is a mutation received from both parents, in a gene called HFE.

Around one in every 200 Australians of European heritage have a double dose of this gene fault and are at risk of developing the disorder. Haemochromatosis is much less common among people who aren’t of European ancestry.

Approximately 80% of men and 60% of women who have inherited this gene fault from both parents develop high iron levels. And of those who do, up to 40% of men and 10% of women will develop health problems.

Diagnosis

Actual blood iron levels are generally normal in those with haemochromatosis, as excess iron in the body is stored in tissues like the liver. So haemochromatosis is diagnosed by testing blood iron indices called transferrin saturation and serum ferritin levels.

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May 17, 2015 - Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News |

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