When it comes to iron consumption, most people are concerned that they may be dealing with a deficiency but approximately 1 million Americans are actually struggling with the opposite. Hemochromatosis is a condition where the body retains too much iron, causing an iron overload, which poses a serious risk to the body, particularly to your heart, liver and pancreas. When left untreated, hemochromatosis can even lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, heart problems and diabetes. Unfortunately, it’s a disease that is often caused by genetics and that cannot be prevented. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow down the progression of the disease and even reverse organ damage to get you back to feeling great again. In this article, we cover everything from the basics to the natural remedies available that can help heal your hemochromatosis naturally.
What is Hemochromatosis?
In order to understand how you can start healing hemochromatosis, you must first understand what it is. Put simply, hemochromatosis is an iron overload where the body retains too much iron and stores the excess in your joints and organs, such as your liver, heart and pancreas. This can cause serious damage and can also lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, heart concerns and diabetes if left untreated. To put it into perspective, this is different from those without hemochromatosis, where the body absorbs the right amount of iron through the intestines and expels the rest.
There are two types of hemochromatosis: primary hemochromatosis and secondary hemochromatosis.
Primary hemochromatosis, also known as hereditary hemochromatosis or classical hemochromatosis, is heredity, meaning that it runs in families and is passed on through genetics. It is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States and affects approximately 1 million people. There are two genes that can cause it – one from your mother and one from your father – and if you get both, you have a higher risk of developing this condition.
Secondary hemochromatosis is caused by other conditions such as anemia, liver disease or medical treatments, such as blood transfusions, dialysis, iron pills and injections, and so on and so forth. It is less common than primary hemochromatosis.
What Are The Symptoms Associated with Hemochromatosis?
Hemochromatosis doesn’t always present obvious symptoms, as many overlap with and can be mistaken as other common conditions. However, some signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Abdominal pain
- Brain fog
- Heart failure
- Joint pain
- Liver failure
- Loss of sex drive
- Skin discoloration
If you’re dealing with primary hemochromatosis, although it’s present at birth, symptoms typically aren’t experienced until later in life.
Who is at Risk of Hemochromatosis and What are the Causes?
As a quick recap, hemochromatosis can be caused by genetics or it can be caused by medical treatments or conditions that cause an iron overload, such as anemia, blood transfusions, liver disease, dialysis and iron injections or pills. However, there are a variety of factors that make someone more at risk of experiencing iron overload.
For example, research has found that hemochromatosis is less common in people with African-American, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian descent and mainly affects white people with a bloodline from Northern Europe. Men are also five times more likely to have hemochromatosis than women and it is believed that this is because women naturally lose iron when menstruating or giving birth to a child. They also store less iron in general.
Age also plays a factor, as iron toxicity takes years to develop. So, the older you get, the more likely you are to have the iron overload turn into hemochromatosis.
Here is a recap of the risk factors mentioned (and a couple more):
- White people with family from Northern Europe are more likely to get hemochromatosis
- Men are five times more likely to have hemochromatosis than women
- Older people are at a higher risk of developing hemochromatosis
- Excessive alcohol use puts you at higher risk of iron overload
- Having arthritis, diabetes, heart attacks, erectile dysfunction or liver disease in the family
With regards to the gene that causes primary hemochromatosis, it is called the HFE gene, which you inherit from each of your parents (one from the mother, one from the father). However, it has two common mutations known as C282Y and H63D. If you inherit two abnormal genes (one from mom, one from dad), you can pass the mutation on to your children and they may or may not develop problems linked to hemochromatosis. If you inherit only one abnormal gene, you are less likely to develop hemochromatosis and can still pass the mutation on to your children. However, they won’t develop the disease unless they inherit a second abnormal gene from the other parent.
What are the Different Treatment Options for Hemochromatosis?
The most common form of treatment for hemochromatosis is similar to that of ‘giving blood’. It’s where a procedure is done to remove some of the blood (typically around 500ml) and, essentially, the iron from your body. This treatment needs to be repeated frequently to remove the excess iron and maintain proper iron levels continuously. Another form of treatment is a type of medication that removes extra iron from the body. This is called ‘Iron chelation therapy’ and can be taken orally or as injections.
As for the natural treatment options, there are many more to choose from. Diet changes are certainly the top-recommended form of natural treatment for hemochromatosis, as this is where the iron comes from in the first place. The general rule of thumb is to avoid iron supplements, limit alcohol consumption and to stay away from foods that contain high amounts of iron.
If your hemochromatosis is caused by another health condition, you may need to treat that condition as well.
What are Some Natural Remedies for Treating Hemochromatosis?
Natural remedies are an excellent form of treatment that can significantly reduce your risk of complications associated with hemochromatosis. And just as you may have predicted based on the information learned in this article, they are largely based around your diet.
The goal is to decrease the amount of iron in the body back to normal levels. This can be done by eating foods low in iron and adding dietary components that affect how much iron the body absorbs. For example, heme iron is easier for the body to absorb than other varieties.
To get you started on your healing journey, here are some quick natural remedies and guidelines to follow:
- Avoid all types of iron supplements, including multivitamins that contain iron
- Eliminate the use of vitamin C supplements, as these increase the body’s absorption of iron (you can still enjoy vitamin C in your diet)
- Limit or avoid alcohol, as it is harmful to your liver and increase the risk of experiencing liver damage in people with primary hemochromatosis
- Avoid raw fish and shellfish, as people with primary hemochromatosis are more prone to infections, especially those caused by the bacteria in raw fish and shellfish
- Aim to eat more heme iron found in plant-based foods, as it is easier for the body to absorb
- Increase calcium intake, as it can reduce iron absorption
- Green leafy vegetables
- When eating nonheme iron, eat more foods that contain phytates, tannins and polyphenols to limit the absorption
- Limit nonheme iron sources, as they’re harder for the body to absorb
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants to protect the cells from damage and to counteract the higher levels of oxidative stress that is common in people with hemochromatosis
- Eat more plant-based foods that contain phytochemicals for a delicious dose of protection
- Dark leafy greens contain lutein
- Tomatoes contain lycopene
- Beets and blueberries contain anthocyanins
- Be mindful of lean protein sources, as many contain iron
- Choose animal proteins that contain lower amounts of iron, such as chicken and fish instead of red meat
- Eating grains, legumes, seeds and nuts can help reduce iron absorption, as they contain phytic acid or phytates
- Foods, such as beans, nuts and whole grains, contain phytates that reduce the absorption of nonheme iron which can reduce the body’s iron levels entirely
- Enjoy tea and coffee, as the tannins can help reduce iron absorption
- Eggs can help inhibit iron absorption due to the protein called phosvitin
- Limit red meat or pair it with foods that naturally reduce iron absorption
- Avoid fortified foods, as they often contain added vitamins and minerals, including iron, to boost nutritional value
- You can also check out holistic programs that touch on the subject and teaches you how to overcome and treat the issue. We recommend the Ironbound program.
Hemochromatosis is a serious condition that cannot be prevented or cured. However, it can be managed and the progression of the disease can be slowed down with a proactive approach and positive mindset. You can even reverse the damage caused to the organs by following the advice in this article.