All You Need To Know About Iron Toxicity

Iron Toxicity

Largely affecting children, iron toxicity is the result of elevated levels of iron in the blood. Certain genetic conditions like hemochromatosis can also cause an iron overload. Symptoms of toxicity may range from nausea and dizziness to organ failure and brain damage. Timely diagnosis is essential to treat iron toxicity and prevent further complications.

Iron is the most important component of hemoglobin in the blood plasma. It helps carry oxygen from the lungs and removes the toxic carbon dioxide from the tissues.

While iron deficiency anemia is one of the most commonly talked about nutritional deficiencies in the world, the adverse effects of excess iron go largely undiscussed. If statistics are to be believed, iron toxicity is a leading cause of poisoning-related deaths in children younger than 6 years. Adults can also experience iron overload if they overdose on supplements or have disorders like hemochromatosis.

When the iron absorbed by your body reaches toxic levels, it can affect your health in a major way. Here’s everything you need to know about iron toxicity, its causes, and symptoms.

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An Iron Supplement Overdose Can Cause Acute Iron Poisoning

Iron toxicity is often the result of consuming iron supplements in excess. If you, or your child, has overdosed on iron supplements, you could suffer from acute iron poisoning. More common in children than adults, an accidental overdose of iron syrups could cause the iron in the body to increase to toxic levels. Minor symptoms of an acute iron poisoning include fast but weak pulse, dizziness, pale skin, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, black stool, and a metallic taste in the mouth. These symptoms last for about 6 hours but may recur after 12 to 48 hours. If the patient does not receive immediate treatment, the toxicity might lead to shock, multiple organ failures, and even death.

The tolerable upper limit for iron intake is 40 mg per day for infants and 45 mg for adults.

To avoid an overdose, make sure that you keep your iron supplements away from kids. Also, avoid giving unprescribed iron supplements to children. In addition, don’t take extra doses at the same time, even if you’re trying to make up for a missed dose.

Iron Toxicity Could Be The Result Of Overabsorption By The Body

Genetic And Acquired Hemochromatosis

To avoid iron toxicity due to hemochromatosis, avoid taking not only iron but also vitamin C supplements as the latter helps your body absorb more iron.

Hemochromatosis is a condition where your body absorbs more iron than required, resulting in a toxic accumulation of iron. Without treatment, this condition can lead to problems like liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, and heart disease.

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Although hemochromatosis is largely genetic, you may acquire the condition if you have hereditary anemia (like sideroblastic anemia, hemolytic anemia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, thalassemia intermedia, and thalassemia major) as your intestine absorbs excess iron to meet the body’s growing need to form new RBCs. And since the excess iron cannot be excreted by the body, it leads to iron toxicity.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis include a change in skin color, joint pain, digestive issues, heart problems, and underactive pituitary and thyroid glands. But sometimes hemochromatosis can also cause some severe side effects and complications.

Severe Side Effects

African Iron Overload

Avoid taking iron supplements if you have African Iron Overload.

First observed among the people of African descent, this is a rare condition caused due to the high intake of dietary iron. The condition is believed to result from the consumption of a traditional African beer, which contains dissolved iron from metal drums in which it is brewed. If left untreated, the condition may cause excess iron to be deposited on your immune cells, thus reducing the infection-fighting ability of your immune system.

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Avoid Iron Toxicity By Controlling Your Diet

Iron toxicity or poisoning needs immediate medical intervention. But, there are a few things you can do to avoid an overload, especially if the toxicity is due to a hereditary condition. While you need to avoid iron-rich food if you’re experiencing toxicity, certain foods can actually reduce the absorption of iron by your body.

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Consume calcium-rich foods like milk, kale, and soybeans as calcium hinders iron absorption. You can also drink black tea, herbal teas, coffee, and cocoa as they are believed to be potent inhibitors of iron absorption. Additionally, make sure to eat certain iron-rich foods like spinach and kale, as they contain oxalate – which is another chemical that reduces iron absorption.

Avoid Toxicity By Preventing Drug Interaction

If you’re on medication for other conditions, consult your doctor to find out whether iron supplements are safe for you. For example, gout medication tends to increase iron storage in the liver. So, before going on supplements, identify and avoid any possible drug interaction.

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To Detect Iron Toxicity, Check Your Serum Ferritin Levels

Your body stores iron in the form of ferritin, a structural protein. An increased ferritin level can mean that you have toxic levels of iron in your body. However, diagnosing iron toxicity by examining ferritin levels may not be accurate if the iron overload is the result of an alcoholic liver disease.

An early diagnosis, medication, and making a few dietary changes will help you overcome the toxic effects of raised iron levels in the blood.