Iron in Your Blood

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Iron is essential for human life, as it is a key part of various proteins and enzymes, involved in the transport of oxygen and the regulation of cell growth and differentiation, among many other uses.

One of the most important roles of iron is to provide hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells), a mechanism through which it can bind to oxygen and carry it throughout your tissues, as without proper oxygenation, your cells quickly start dying.

If you have too little iron, you may experience fatigue, decreased immunity or iron-deficiency anemia, which can be serious if left untreated. This is common in children and premenopausal women.

But what many people fail to realize is that too much iron can be equally deadly, and is actually far more common than iron deficiency, thanks to a hereditary disease known as hemochromatosis.

This Health Issue Has Been of Major Importance to Me and My Family

This test saved my dad’s life 20 years ago when I discovered he had a ferritin level close to 1000. It was because he has beta-thalassemia. With regular phlebotomies, his iron levels normalized and now the only side effect he has is type 1 diabetes. The high iron levels damaged his pancreatic islet cells and now he has what is called “bronze” diabetes and so requires the use of insulin.

I also inherited this from him so this is a personal issue. Thankfully, I am able to keep my iron levels normal by removing about a quart of blood a year. This is removed not all at once but over a few dozen deposits.

I screened all my patients with ferritin levels and noticed nearly one-fourth of them had elevated levels. So I would strongly encourage you and your family to be screened annually for this, as it is SO MUCH easier to prevent iron overload than it is to treat it.

Ferritin Screen – One of Your Most Important Health Tests

Checking your iron levels is easy and can be done with a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test. I believe this is one of the most important tests that everyone should have done on a regular basis as part of a preventive, proactive health screen.

The test measures the carrier molecule of iron, a protein found inside cells called ferritin, which stores the iron. If your ferritin levels are low, it means your iron levels are also low.

The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 ng/ml. Below 20 is a strong indicator that you are iron deficient, and above 80 suggests you have an iron surplus. The ideal range is between 40-60 ng/ml.

The higher the number over 100 the worse the iron overload, with levels over 300 being particularly toxic and will eventually cause serious damage in nearly everyone that sustains those levels long term. It’s important to find out if your levels are high because your body has a limited capacity to excrete iron, which means it can easily build up in organs like your liver, heart and pancreas. This is dangerous because iron is a potent oxidizer and can damage your body tissues contributing to serious health issues, including:

Cirrhosis Liver cancer Cardiac arrhythmias
Type one diabetes Alzheimer’s disease Bacterial and viral infections

 

Cancer researchers have also found new evidence that bowel cancers are two to three times more likely to develop when dietary iron is too high in your body.1

Risk Factors for Iron Overload

People with hemochromatosis are not the only ones who may accumulate more iron than is healthy. While premenopausal women who are menstruating regularly rarely suffer from iron overload, most adult men and postmenopausal women tend to be at a high risk, as they don’t have a monthly blood loss (one of the best ways you can get rid of excess iron is by bleeding).

Another common cause of excess iron is the regular consumption of alcohol, which will increase the absorption of any iron in your diet. For instance, if you drink wine with your steak, you will likely be absorbing more iron than you need. Other potential causes of high iron levels include:

  • Cooking in iron pots or pans. Cooking acidic foods in these types of pots or pans will cause even higher levels of iron absorption.
  • Eating processed food products like cereals and white breads that are “fortified’ with iron. The iron they use in these products is inorganic iron, not much different than rust and it is far more dangerous than the iron in meat.
  • Drinking well water that is high in iron. The key here is to make sure you have some type of iron precipitator and/or a reverse osmosis water filter.
  • Taking multiple vitamins and mineral supplements, as both of these frequently have iron in them.

Could Reducing Your Iron Level Be a Safer Alternative to Statins?

We may have garnered some valuable information about how iron drives inflammation from studying statins drugs, of all things. Statins are of course, cholesterol drugs. Statins have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body by reducing oxidative stress, which is something the drug companies tend not to disclose. The fact that statin drugs reduce inflammation, and reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, may explain why statins decrease heart attacks in some people. This benefit has nothing to do with the action of lowering cholesterol, but rather the reduction of inflammation.

In a study published in the April 2013 issue of American Journal of Public Health2, researchers found that statins improved cardiovascular outcomes at least partially by countering the proinflammatory effects of excess iron stores. In this study, the improved outcomes were associated with lower ferritin levels but not with “improved” lipid status. Researchers concluded iron reduction might be a safe and low-cost alternative to statins. An earlier study in the American Heart Journal3 also showed that people with a lower iron burden had less risk for heart attack and stroke.

These studies add credence to what I learned a few years ago from Dr. Steven Sinatra, one of the leading natural cardiologists in the world, that statins’ only health benefit is that of reducing inflammation.

This may be helpful for a small percentage of individuals who have a very high risk of dying from a heart attack, but NOT for those who simply have “high” cholesterol levels. Statin drugs are vastly overprescribed and are not worth the risk for the vast majority of you. In some cases, they may actually increase your risk of stroke. If elevated iron is the driving force behind your inflammation and cardiovascular disease, then it makes far more sense to simply reduce your iron level, as opposed to taking a statin drug that has the potential for many adverse effects.

What to Do if Your Iron Levels Are Too High

The good news if you find out that your iron levels are elevated or you have hemochromatosis is that remedying the condition is relatively simple. Some people advise using iron chelators like phytic acid or IP6, but I tried that with my dad and it failed miserably so I would not recommend it. Donating your blood is a far safer, more effective and inexpensive approach for this problem.

http://cadmin.mercola.com/MercolaAdmin/PetsSpanishSpecialTagContentPriority.aspx If, for some reason, a blood donor center is unable to accept your blood for donation you can obtain a prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy. At the same time, you will want to be sure to avoid consuming excess iron in the form of supplements, in your drinking water (well water), from iron cookware, or in fortified processed foods.

Additionally:

  • Certain phenolic-rich herbs and spices, such as green tea and rosemary, can reduce iron absorption4
  • The primary polyphenol in turmeric known as curcumin actually acts as an iron chelator, and in mice studies, diets supplemented with this spice extract exhibited a decline in levels of ferritin in the liver5
  • Astaxanthin, which has been researched to have over 100 potential health benefits, has been shown to reduce iron-induced oxidative damage6

The Ancient Origins of Iron Overload

How and why hemochromatosis – now one of the most prevalent genetic diseases in the United States – emerged is the subject of numerous theories and speculation – but its true history remains a complex mystery. In a fascinating article on the topic, The Atlantic7 recently highlighted the notion that everyone who inherited the C282Y mutation responsible for the majority of hemochromatosis cases got it from the same person. In other words, one distant ancestor passed on the mutation, which now favors people of Northern European decent.

No one knows the precise identity of the founder, but initial speculation that it was someone of Irish descent has given way to the possibility that it may have actually arisen in a Viking civilization or, even earlier, in a central European hunter-gatherer.

It takes two inherited copies of the mutation (one from the mother and one from the father) to cause the disease (and even then only some people will actually get sick). If you have just one mutation, you won’t become ill but you will absorb slightly more iron than the rest of the population, a trait that may have given people an advantage when dietary sources of iron were scarce.

Did the Hemochromatosis Mutation Emerge to Protect Humans from a Carb-Heavy Agricultural Diet?

There is speculation that the hemochromatosis mutation may have spread in ancient Europe around the time that man transitioned from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Unlike the Paleolithic diet of the “cavemen,” which by necessity included a relatively balanced diet of iron-rich meat, fish and plant foods, farming may have led humans to rely on an overabundance of grain carbohydrates. The featured article reported:

Fossil evidence indicates early European farmers stood roughly 6 inches shorter than their hunter-gatherer ancestors, a possible indication of malnutrition… Average height and life expectancy fell, as bone infections, dental cavities, and skeletal malformations associated with anemia rose. While the exact composition of the Paleolithic plate remains debated, most agree that European hunter-gatherers ate more meat than those in modern farming communities. And this animal protein was an excellent source of one familiar micronutrient: iron.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 billion persons worldwide current suffer from the lack of red blood cells known as anemia — half of which may be caused by iron deficiency. One’s inner paleo might wonder whether this pandemic of iron deficiency began in the Neolithic era as diets bloated with carbohydrates replaced those rich in meat and fish.

Anemia decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood; if marked, this will hinder an individual’s ability to stay healthy, find food, and reproduce. The C282Y mutation increases iron absorption, and it may have inadvertently protected carriers against this threat.”

The Hemochromatosis Link to the Plague

Another intriguing theory suggests that the hemochromatosis mutation may have protected against the Black Death of the 14th century, by preventing the Yersinia pestis bacteria from reproducing inside of human immune cells.

“During the Black Death, mortality may have been highest, up to 50-66 percent, in the British Isles — a future hotbed of hereditary hemochromatosis … In this most unsympathetic environment, minute DNA differences may decide survival or death. A genetic advantage would quickly spread through the island population — it would have less value on the mainland where plague mortality may have been lower,” the featured article reported.

But this theory is challenged by conflicting information that suggests the plague bacteria use iron from its host to enhance its ability to infect cells. People with hemochromatosis may therefore be among the most vulnerable to succumbing to plague infections, which suggests the mutation may have nothing to do with survival. It could, perhaps, be an artifact of natural selection or there may be a different explanation entirely…

Written By: Dr. Mercola

Article Source: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/05/elevated-iron-levels.aspx

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Why Donating Blood Is Good For Your Health

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It’s time to roll up your sleeve and save a life — including yours.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, with a total of 44,000 blood donations needed every day, reports the American Red Cross. One whole blood donation, which takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour, can come to the rescue of as many as three patients.

Harold Mendenhall, an 84-year-old lifetime blood donor from South Florida, donated his 100th gallon of blood, The Palm Beach Post reported. He started giving blood on July 7, 1977 when his wife, Frankie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After she died, going to the blood bank was a way Mendenhall could deal with the grief of losing his wife and later his two sons. At least, he could save those who needed a blood transfusion.

Mendenhall, strong and healthy, donates 6 gallons of blood a year by platelets. In a platelet donation, a machine withdrawals the blood, filters out the platelets, and returns the rest of the blood to the donor, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. This donation procedure takes 70 to 90 minutes and can be done once every seven days, allowing for the donor to give blood every few weeks instead of the eight weeks of waiting required for a non-platelet donation. Whole blood donors can also donate platelets 72 hours after a whole blood donation, and vice versa.

Blood donors must be 17 years old in most states, with some states lowering the limit to 16 years old with parental consent. Donors ages 16 to 18 are also subject to additional height and weight restrictions, says the New York Blood Center. A single individual who donates whole blood starting at 17 years old every 56 days until they reach 76 will have donated 48 gallons of blood, potentially saving more than 1,000 lives, says the American Red Cross.

While the health benefits of recipients who receive blood transfusions are clear, altruistic blood donors too, can reap the benefits.

Preserves Cardiovascular Health

Blood viscosity is known to be a unifying factor for the risk of cardiovascular disease, says the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. How thick and sticky your blood is and how much friction your blood creates through the blood vessels can determine how much damage is done to the cells lining your arteries. You can reduce your blood viscosity by donating blood on a regular basis, which eliminates the iron that may possibly oxidize in your blood. An increase in oxidative stress can be damaging to your cardiovascular system.

Blood donation reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes, too. In a study published in theJournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that participants ages 43 to 61 had fewer heart attacks and strokes when they donated blood every six months. In a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found in a sample size of 2,682 men in Finland, those who donated blood a minimum of once a year had an 88 percent lower risk of heart attacks than those who did not donate.

The removal of oxidative iron from the body through blood donations means less iron oxidation and reduced cardiovascular diseases.

Reduces The Risk of Cancer

The reduction of iron stores and iron in the body while giving blood can reduce the risk of cancer. Iron has been thought of to increase free-radical damage in the body and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and aging, says a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers followed 1,200 people split into groups of two over the course of 4 ½ years. One group reduced their iron stores by blood donations twice a year, whereas the other group did not make any changes. The results of the study showed that the group of blood donors had lower iron levels, and a lower risk of cancer and mortality.

The Miller-Keystone Blood Center says that the consistency of blood donations is associated with lower risks of cancers including liver, lung, colon, and throat cancers due to the reduction in oxidative stress when iron is released from the bloodstream.

Burns Calories

People burn approximately 650 calories per donation of one pint of blood, according to theUniversity of California, San Diego. A donor who regularly donates blood can lose a significant amount of weight, but it should not be thought of as a weight loss plan by any means. To donate blood the American Red Cross requires donors to weigh at least 110 pounds and maintain healthy iron levels in the body.

Provides A Free Blood Analysis

Upon donation, donors are tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases. Testing indicates whether or not you are eligible to donate based on what is found in your bloodstream, says the American Red Cross. The organization also notes that a sample of your blood may be used now or in the future for additional tests and other medical research with your consent.

Source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/why-donating-blood-good-your-health-246379

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