Iron in the human body is an essential component to building red blood cells and maintaining optimum health. Excess iron in the body is most often the result of a condition known as hemochromatosis and may result in serious health consequences if left untreated. Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition, most common among people of northern European descent, according to the Ohio State University Medical Center. Over time, the excess iron settles into vital organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas, and in the joints. This can lead to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver and eventually death. Luckily, hemochromatosis is treatable at any stage of the disease.
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Schedule an appointment with a genetics lab to have iron testing performed. You may have to be referred by your doctor. If you are of northern European descent or either of your parents have hemochromatosis, it is wise for you to be tested. Also, if you have symptoms of diabetes, liver disease or arthritis but no common risk factors, you may want your iron tested. For the patient, testing consists of giving a few vials of blood and waiting for the results.
Avoid eating foods rich in iron, as they will only make the problem worse. Limit your intake of red meat which contains an easily absorbed form of iron, and sugar, which increases iron absorption, according to the University of Virginia Health System. Iron supplements and foods fortified with iron are also off limits.
Drink tea or coffee along with your meals as often as possible. The tannins found in these beverages impair iron absorption.
Consume eggs, supplemental calcium and fiber often, as they also hinder your body's ability to absorb iron. Your calcium supplement and fiber intake should occur daily, while eating eggs a few time per week will suffice. Some examples of high fiber foods are raspberries, pears and apples with the skin, whole grain bread and pasta, oatmeal, split peas, lentils, almonds and sunflower seeds.
Eat fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, rice and nuts freely, as they contain a form of iron that is not as easily absorbed as the kind found in red meat.
Schedule regular phlebotomy to remove the excess iron from your body. A phlebotomy is basically a form of "blood letting" where you will lie on a table and have blood drained intravenously. Your doctor will set up a schedule depending on your age and iron levels. You may have treatment as often as once per week at the beginning, but as iron levels normalize, a few times a year should be all it takes to keep everything in check, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Phlebotomy treatment will continue for life to maintain healthy iron levels.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Hemochromatosis
- Ohio State University Medical Center: Hemochromatosis
- University of Virginia Health System: Dietary Guidelines for Patients with Hemochromatosis
- University of California Department of Epidemeology: Hemochromatosis Studies
- MayoClinic.com: High-Fiber Foods