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UncategorizedHaemochromatosis

Haemochromatosis

Haemochromatosis is a case of too much of a good thing. While iron deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritional deficiency, people with haemochromatosis have the opposite problem, they absorb too much iron. The excess iron can be deposited in the body especially the liver, but also joints, testicles and heart. Eventually, haemochromatosis can lead to liver disease and even liver failure. It may increase your risk of developing heart problems, diabetes and testicular atrophy. Excess iron can oxidise in the body causing free radical damage. Diagnosis is made via blood tests and also genetic testing to see if you are at risk, this is worthwhile if you know you have a relative with this condition, as symptoms often are not revealed until later in life.

What causes it?

  • A relatively common genetic disorder, haemochromatosis affects around 1 in 300 caucasians of European descent.
  • Haemochromatosis can also occur from long-term alcoholism and other health conditions.

Symptoms

Symptoms often appear later in life, for men in their 40s and 50s and for women 10 to 15 years later after years of menstruation has reduced the total iron load in the body.

  • Fatigue is a common symptoms of haemochromatosis, the same symptom as anaemia.
  • Bronzing or darkening of the skin (rusting from within!).
  • Loss of body hair.
  • Low libido.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Weight loss.

What to do

Diet

  • If you love to tuck into a juicy T-bone steak, you might need to redirect your affections to snapper or better still lentil burgers. Reduce or avoid iron-rich food such as liver, liverwurst and pate, beef, lamb, duck, venison, goat, the darker cuts of turkey and chicken, molluscs – oysters, clams, mussels and, yes, blood sausage (black pudding) is out. While non-haem iron is less well absorbed (see Anaemia on pXX) continue to eat, but don’t go crazy on the following iron-rich foods:
  • Dried fruit – prunes, raisins, dates.
  • Dark leafy green vegetables – kale, bok choy, gai lan, spinach
  • Legumes – lentils, kidney beans, soy beans
  • Seaweed
  • Parsley
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Drink tea (black or green) with meals as this will further reduce iron absorption.
  • Citrus fruit and berries are excellent sources of vitamin C, which helps iron absorption. Enjoy these delicious fruits, but eat them 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals to reduce absorption of iron. Same goes for orange juice. NOTE – if you are undergoing regular venesection (blood taking – see below in ‘Other’) to reduce your iron levels, you may not need to adhere to the above suggestions. Your doctor will be keeping an eye on your iron levels via blood tests.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol to lessen the load on the liver.
  • Avoid raw seafood as it may contain bacteria including vibrio vulnerierus and salmonella enteriditis that thrive in an iron rich environment.
  • Turmeric is an excellent liver tonic and is anti-inflammatory, the perfect combination for this condition.

Remedies

  • Take a zinc supplement as zinc competes with iron for absorption. Make sure you take the supplement at meal times.
  • Take an antioxidant supplement that does not contain vitamin C. The excess iron in the body has a tendency to oxidise and cause free radical damage. As curcumin (the therapeutic substance in turmeric) is antioxidant, perhaps choose an antioxidant that also contains this.
  • Avoid any supplement with vitamin C as this increases iron absorption
  • Avoid any supplement containing iron.

Other

  • Often venesection, also known as phlebotomy, taking blood in 500 ml units, is the best way to treat haemochromotosis. If you are also able to donate your blood, this doubles the good. Generally venesection occurs relatively frequently until your blood levels are acceptable, then less frequently. Make sure you hydrate with water before and after treatment. Also take some arnica if you are prone to bruising.
  • Don’t use cast-iron cookware.

At a glance

Diet

  • Reduce iron-rich foods including liver, liverwurst and pate, beef, lamb, duck, venison, goat, the darker cuts of turkey and chicken, molluscs – oysters, clams, mussels. From the plant kingdom, reduce your intake of prunes, raisins, dates, and dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, bok choy, gai lan, spinach. Also leave out legumes/pulses such as lentils, kidney beans, soya beans. Other things to eat less of include seaweed, parsley and blackstrap molasses.
  • Drink tea (black or green) with meals as this will further reduce iron absorption.
  • NOTE – if you are undergoing regular venesection (blood taking) to reduce your iron levels, you may not need to adhere to the above suggestions. Your doctor will be keeping an eye on your iron levels via blood tests.

Remedies

  • As zinc competes with iron for absorption, take a zinc supplement with meals containing iron-rich foods.
  • Avoid supplements containing iron and vitamin C.

Other

  • Avoid using cast-iron cookware.
  • If you are having venesection, make sure you drink at least 500 mls extra fluid that day.
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