All You Need To Know About Iron Toxicity

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Iron Toxicity

Iron overload can lead to tissue and organ damage as iron has the capability of forming free oxygen radicals in the tissues. A high level of iron in the tissues may increase the risk of cancer. It can reduce the immunity level in the body and make the body susceptible to infection and diseases. It can damage the brain and affect the liver causing cirrhosis. So, when it comes to iron, too much of a good thing is a very real possibility and quite dangerous too.

Iron is an important element found in almost all living organisms and plays a key role in a majority of metabolic processes in the body. It is the most important component of hemoglobin in the blood plasma that carries oxygen from the lungs and removes the toxic carbon dioxide from the tissues. You probably know that the deficiency of iron has noticeable effects on human health. Likewise, in excessive amounts, iron can be toxic to the human body and affect health in a major way.

Serum ferritin in blood is a good indicator of iron stores in the body. Liver cirrhosis, diabetes, cardiac disease, pigmentation, fatigue, bleeding, jaundice, blurry vision, recurrent fevers and even seizures indicate iron toxicity. Proper diagnosis and medication can treat iron toxicity and protect the body from its harmful effects.1

1. Symptoms Of Iron Toxicity

Some symptoms of iron toxicity are fever, fatigue, and blurred vision

Iron is both essential and toxic. Iron overload is associated with genetic and environmental factors and can cause serious damage to organs. While minor effects of iron overload can manifest as fever, fatigue, blurred vision, hair loss, and pigmentation, massive iron deposits in the body can cause fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, prolonged jaundice, cardiac failure, brain damage, and risk of cancer due to the formation of free radicals in the tissues.

This condition called hemochromatosis occurs because of dysregulated iron absorption that can lead to damage to various organs.2 Acute iron poisoning is indicated by gastritis and vomiting, sometimes with blood present in the vomit. Vomiting can be accompanied by diarrhea and can lead to coma and cardiac shock at times.3

2. Detecting Iron Toxicity In The Body

Detecting iron toxicity can be done by a simple test

Iron balance is maintained by the regulation of iron absorption by the intestine. When the iron stores increase in the body, the intestine reduces its absorption of iron, preventing iron overload, and allows the existing iron in the body to be used up. The body stores iron in the form of proteins called ferritin.

These proteins in the plasma help in the process of creating the red blood cells which deliver oxygen that is vital to the body and remove the toxic carbon dioxide from the body. You can check your serum ferritin level to diagnose if your iron level is optimum. An increased serum ferritin level in the blood can indicate inflammation and tissue damage in the body.4

3. Controlling Your Diet

Maintaining a calcium free diet will allow you to not take in too much iron

You will be advised very frequently not to take calcium products with food rich in iron. Calcium intake greatly interferes with dietary iron absorption. For iron overload, increase in intake of calcium-rich foods like milk products and eggs is beneficial.5

Soybean products and whey have an inhibitory effect on the absorption of iron in the body.6 Black tea, herbal teas, coffee, and cocoa contain polyphenols that are potent inhibitors of iron absorption.7

4. Timely Diagnosis And Medication

Getting a diagnosis at the right time is important

You can face severe illnesses if the iron level in the blood goes unmonitored without a complete diagnosis for long. Over-prescribing iron tablets to target iron deficiency anemia can also lead to hemochromatosis. Iron supplements given to children without properly monitoring the iron level in the body can lead to iron poisoning that can be lethal.

An early diagnosis with an evaluation of blood work and intake of prescribed medication and follow-up measures can be effective in reducing the iron stores in the body.8 It is important to know that iron overload can cause serious illnesses and damage organs even before the clinical symptoms develop. With an index of high suspicion, iron toxicity can be prevented or reduced.

Iron overload disorder can be hereditary as well. Evaluation of trace elements in blood plasma in frequent intervals is mandatory to detect metal toxicity in blood. An early diagnosis, medication and making a few changes in diet will help you overcome the toxic effects of raised iron levels in the blood.

References   [ + ]

1. Abbaspour, Nazanin, Richard Hurrell, and Roya Kelishadi. “Review on iron and its importance for human health.” Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 19, no. 2 (2014): 164.
2. Adams, Paul C., Yves Deugnier, Romain Moirand, and Pierre Brissot. “The relationship between iron overload, clinical symptoms, and age in 410 patients with genetic hemochromatosis.” Hepatology 25, no. 1 (1997): 162-166.
3. Wallerstein, Ralph O. and Mettier, Stacy R. “Iron in Clinical Medicine.” University of California Press, 1958.
4. Cavill, Ivor. “Iron status as measured by serum ferritin: the marker and its limitations.” American Journal of Kidney Diseases 34, no. 4 (1999): s12-s17.
5. Hallberg, L., L. Rossander-Hulten, M. Brune, and A. Gleerup. “Calcium and iron absorption: mechanism of action and nutritional importance.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 46, no. 5 (1992): 317-327.
6. Cook, James D., Timothy A. Morck, and Sean R. Lynch. “The inhibitory effect of soy products on nonheme iron absorption in man.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 34, no. 12 (1981): 2622-2629.
7. Hurrell, Richard F., Manju Reddy, and James D. Cook. “Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages.” British Journal of Nutrition 81, no. 4 (1999): 289-295.
8. Lauffer, Randall B. “Iron and Human Disease.” CRC Press, 1992.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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