HealthIron overload: The hidden health threat causing liver damage and fatigue

Iron overload: The hidden health threat causing liver damage and fatigue

Iron overload: The hidden health threat causing liver damage and fatigue
Images source: © Licensor | Kinga Krzeminska
10:04 AM EST, January 16, 2024

Iron is a crucial component of both hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that transport oxygen and carbon dioxide through the bloodstream. It is also involved in energy production processes within cells and DNA synthesis.

Iron overload in the blood

Excess iron can result from over-supplementation, numerous blood transfusions, and certain diseases, such as hemochromatosis, anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and liver diseases.

An overabundance of iron can cause fatigue, joint pain, weakness, skin problems (e.g., skin darkening), hormonal imbalance, irregular heartbeat, digestive issues, pancreas damage, and liver problems.

When iron accumulation occurs in the liver, it can lead to:

  • Liver steatosis: Usually associated with overweight and obesity, an excess of iron can also cause this fatty liver disease.
  • Hepatomegaly: Enlargement of the liver.
  • Fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver: Excessive iron in the liver can cause chronic damage, leading to fibrosis (scarring) or a more advanced condition like cirrhosis.
  • Liver cancer: Individuals with chronic iron overload are at a higher risk of developing liver cancer compared to the general population.
  • Liver function disorders: Excessive iron can disrupt the normal functioning of the liver, resulting in elevated liver enzyme levels in the blood serum.

The root problem behind these health concerns is iron toxicity. When the body's iron level is too high, it can trigger oxidative stress, which harms liver cells. That's why it's crucial to regularly check iron levels in the blood and adjust diet and potential supplements accordingly to avoid excess.

Dietary advice for individuals with high levels of iron in the blood

People with iron overload should reduce their intake of iron-rich foods (red meat, some fish, and seafood) and limit their consumption of vitamin C, which facilitates iron absorption from foodstuffs.

Alcohol consumption should also be minimized, as it can exacerbate liver damage caused by an excess of iron.

Through a balanced diet and regular blood tests, iron levels can be effectively managed to prevent potential health problems. Here are the healthy ranges of iron concentration:

For men: 70–200 µg/dl

For women: 55–180 µg/dl

For infants up to 6 months old: 35–155 µg/dl

For children from 6 months to 15 years old: 45–185 µg/dl

For girls over 15 years old: 40–145 µg/dl

For boys over 15 years old: 55–160 µg/dl.

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