Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Menstruating women are especially prone to it since they lose blood every month. But too much iron can also be a health risk, and it is more common than you think – about 1 in 200 people suffer from a hereditary condition that causes them to absorb too much iron.
If your blood tests came back with high iron, here is what you can change in your diet to balance things out.
A bit about iron
First off, why do we even need iron, and what can too much of it do to your body? Iron is mostly used to build blood and transfer oxygen to every part of the body. Iron molecules rarely flow freely in the bloodstream, where they can cause harm and oxidative stress; they are linked to a protein called transferrin.
Too much iron can increase the risk of arthritis, cancer, liver problems, diabetes, heart failure, and infections.
If you’re not menstruating, your body does not have a built-in mechanism to dispose of iron. On average, we only lose about 1 mg of it a day.
That is why the absorption of iron is highly regulated in the body, and increasing iron levels may even be challenging to some. But to others, gradual iron buildup poses a risk of iron overload. Since the body cannot dispose of iron on its own, it accumulates in several different tissues, where it causes oxidative stress. Usually, iron is stored in the liver, heart, and pancreas. If the pancreas becomes damaged, it can lead to diabetes.
What are the symptoms of high iron?
Many people won’t notice any symptoms unless the situation is severe. However, do keep an open eye for the following symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain or an upset stomach
- Reduced libido, a shrinking of the testicles, or a pause or irregularities in menstruation.
How to lower iron levels?
If your blood test came back with high iron, or you suffer from hemochromatosis (a hereditary condition that causes you to absorb up to four times more iron than average), here are some dietary recommendations to follow:
* Foods rich in calcium interfere with iron absorption. Eggs and soy are great examples.
* Consume antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, with special emphasis on tomatoes, beets, and blueberries. This protects your body from oxidative stress.
* Prefer animal protein from cooked fish and chicken over red meat.
* Tea and coffee also interfere with iron absorption in the body.
You may also consider consulting your physician about chelation therapy: a type of treatment containing chelating molecules, usually taken orally. Chelators bind to other molecules and pull them out as they leave the body. Do not take a chelator without consulting a physician, as this may deplete your body of essential minerals.
Another great way of balancing your iron blood count is by donating blood.
What should you avoid?
* Avoid taking multivitamins or any other supplements that may contain iron or Vitamin C. The latter increases iron absorption.
* Avoid raw shellfish, such as oysters. They contain high amounts of easy-to-absorb iron.
* Avoid fortified grains - those can be found mainly in the US and the UK, and they contain high levels of iron.
* Reduce alcohol intake – your liver already experiences plenty of oxidative stress.
* Reduce red meat intake.
* Avoid iron cookware. Yes, we are talking about your cast-iron skillet.