The Iron Dilemma: Iron Deficiency involves more than just iron!
So many people have been asking me a lot lately about iron, so I would like to address this iron overload problem. Hopefully we can get some closure and some answers on how this issue applies to us.
What is Iron Overload?
Iron overload is real, and it is prevalent. I don’t think this is the “be all, end all” to our health issues though. However it is an issue because of the enrichment of many commonly eaten foods- breads, pastas, and cereals mostly. Only the US, UK, and Canada do this- which makes no sense at all. These are 3 of the most developed countries in the world and the residents most certainly have access to enough food without needing extra enrichment. So WHY do they add iron to all of these foods? Because *some* people have an iron deficiency. Clearly, whoever is in charge of this takes the phrase “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” way too seriously.
Beyond the fact that these enriched foods are highly processed and shouldn’t even be considered food to begin with, the iron is the biggest issue. Synthetic nutrients have NO place in our food, period. They are NOT bioavailable and they have a tendency to build up in the body, which is where iron overload comes into play. Iron can sequester itself into organs and wreak havoc (quite like other metals like mercury, aluminum, etc). In the end, we are just being used as a science experiment. They add things to the food and water, they see what transpires, and then they choose something else to test out on us… yes, it happens!
So WHY exactly is iron overload a problem?
Because iron RUSTS. Even in the body. It creates oxidative stress which is “an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system’s ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage” (source). Oxidative stress is directly linked to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Asperger’s , cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver disorders, kidney failure, arthritis, endocrine disruption, autism, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Excess iron can also feed bacteria- this creates a huge issue for anyone with underlying bacterial infections.
Who is at risk of Iron Overload?
If you have has blood infusions, been on iron supplementation for long periods of time, or if you’ve been eating a diet heavy in enriched foods (think bread, pasta, and cereal) then you have a high chance of having an iron overload issue. In some parts of the US, there is also a chance of iron being in the air, water and soil- usually California, Arizona, and the Midwestern US.Â Those who work in fields that deal with welding, mining, steel mills, or even electric could be prone to iron build-up. It is also possible that cast iron cookware could contribute to this issue. We only absorb about 10% of the iron found in food too- so it usually the main culprits are supplementation, a genetic tendency to absorb more iron, or your metabolism is very slow and unable to process iron correctly.
How to test and treat Iron Overload
It is very hard to get a definitive answer if you have this issue with tests. If you have any of the risk factors listed above it would be safe to say that you have some varying degree of this problem. The biggest helps would be an HTMA as well as a full blood panel for copper, iron, ceruloplasmin, ferritin, TIBC, iron saturation (should be under 50%), and Magnesium RBC.
There are many different opinions on what “ideal” numbers should be for iron and ferritin. A general guide would be about 100 for iron, and about 50 for ferritin. This study says that the higher the ferritin, the bigger the risk for heart attacks. Despite what some sites say, more is NOT always better. Normal might have many variations but iron and ferritin are not the only markers for health. Even Dr. Mercola says that ferritin over 80 indicates issues, especially with inflammation.
The issue for a lot of people with iron overload is that they have been told they have iron anemia- so they have most likely been using iron supplements for some time. Iron metabolism involves iron, copper, ceruloplasmin (which needs retinol and vitamin C), and molybdenum. Taking an iron supplement gives you iron. That is it. No co-factors, no guarantee that it will even increase your iron. In fact, you are more likely to store up that iron that isn’t usable, which has a big chance of harming you in the long run.
As for treating iron overload, there are many things you can do for your health whether you have this issue or not.
Avoid enriched food products
focusing on ceruloplasmin production (read more below on ceruloplasmin) can help fix this because it helps to regulate iron, especially when it is not bio-available
Eliminate processed foods and focus on a whole foods, balanced, mostly organic diet
Get an HTMA to determine tissue iron stores, as well as metabolic rate which will allow us to find the perfect diet for you. Fixing the metabolic rate will allow your body to eliminate iron more efficiently
Get blood tests for copper, iron, ceruloplasmin, ferritin, TIBC, iron saturation (should be under 50%), and Magnesium RBC. HTMA helps to determine metabolism, but the blood panels help determine storage of both copper and iron.
Get more rest and find ways to manage stress better- iron is often stored in the liver and anger is a common emotion associated with liver sluggishness
Balance your Sodium Level (again, with an HTMA!); sodium is essential for iron removal
Support glutathione levels in the liver as well as copper balance to help manage free radicals. Supporting the liver is crucial as well since there is a link between bile flow and excreting copper and iron.
IP-6, or inositol hexophosphate, is an amazing choice for fixing high iron, high inflammation, and helps with certain cancers. (source) This one from Cell Forte is a popular choice.
Blood letting is the last thing I would suggest- you can lose a lot more than just iron this way. This also isn’t addressing the root cause of WHY iron keeps becoming toxic in the body, plus it can create a host of other imbalances that you will have to fix. **However- this would depend on the level of ferritin and the strength of the person. I would definitely try to find a doctor that is knowledgeable about iron overload and try to come up with a personal schedule on how often to donate blood as well as frequent testing to determine how levels are dropping**
Read The Iron Elephant to learn even more about iron overload (this book was first published in 1990! This issue has been around for a LONG time!)
*More About Ceruloplasmin*
What is Ceruloplasmin Anyway??
Ceruloplasmin is the copper binding protein but it also plays a huge part in iron metabolism. According to this study, ceruloplasmin is essential to get iron to moves from the cells to plasma. Ceruloplasmin doesn’t bind iron but it enable iron to be absorbed in the gut, allows it to bind with transferrin (another protein made in the liver), helps red blood cells form, and just allows proper iron metabolism.
Ceruloplasmin production depends on a few things. Sufficient adrenal and liver function is required to help make this protein. Please read that sentence again! This is why we usually work on adrenal and liver health FIRST for those dealing with copper issues. Ceruloplasmin is also dependent on animal-based retinol, whole food vitamin C, and copper (95% of the copper in the body is found in ceruloplasmin).
There are actually many things that inhibit ceruloplasmin production as well. Obviously the biggest problem with creating sufficient ceruloplasmin is our overloaded livers from environmental toxins. Preventing the liver from becoming sluggish is key to making ceruloplasmin available.
Ceruloplasmin in is the key to regulating copper and iron. CP is also needed for neurotransmitter health, amine activation, management of pathogens, and it is important for ATP regulation (aka energy production!)
So what happens when we focus on ceruloplasmin instead of individual nutrients? Since we have to focus on strengthening the adrenals and liver, the body gets stronger in the process. As ceruloplasmin rises, unbound copper falls and we make copper and iron more bioavailable. Iron is allowed to be activated to be utilized properly. Zinc, molybdenum and manganese are given a chance to re-balance once unbound copper decreases. The body can finally heal from underlying infections (whether bacterial, viral or parasitic) because copper is now becoming bioavailable. The body can also get a handle on oxidative stress once copper can become bioavaiable- whether it is from heavy metals, excess iron, or just general toxin buildup.
What Happens When Ceruloplasmin is low?
Calcium can be elevated- lack of vitamin A (as retinol) makes us unable to hold onto potassium, which is needed to keep calcium in check
High UNbound copper and low bound copper
Iron Imbalance (think of it just like copper- it needs to be managed and regulated by Cp)
You are more prone to oxidative stress since ceruloplasmin is a potent antioxidant, as well as bioavailable copper
Because of the link between copper, iron and ceruloplasmin: “Copper deficiency generates cellular iron deficiency, which in humans results in diminished work capacity, reduced intellectual capacity, diminished growth, alterations in bone mineralization, and diminished immune response which can be associated to several diseases and syndromes” (Source, page 27)
From one source on page 30 “When there is copper deficiency the iron uptake and transport within the body is affected, and iron tends to accumulate in several tissues. Thus, copper deficiency results in an anemia similar to that observed in iron deficiency.”
So- I do NOT think that everyone is suffering from iron overload but it is REAL and it is very damaging to our health. There are many things we can do to prevent toxic iron build-up, as well as support bioavailable iron. I hope this post helps some of those that have been confused on this issue (because I know I was for a time!)
Sources for this article, please read to learn more! Everything I wrote about above can be found in these articles (Truly- all of these articles are the ORIGINAL sources):
My name is Kristin, and I've been on the path to help people achieve better health using whole food nutrition, mineral balancing, and holistic healing principles for almost 7 years now. The body is a whole and we must treat it as such! I have my Bachelor of Science in Natural Health Sciences, certificates in Herbal Studies from Herbal Academy, and I am constantly learning more about health to help my clients and followers.