Did You Know?Excess alcohol consumption and daily meals high in red meat or vitamin C rich foods (that increase your ability to absorb iron) are some of the primary contributory factors that raise the risk of iron overload.
As the saying goes, everything when in excess is bad, so is iron. Although abnormally high levels of iron has often been attributed to excessive intake of dietary iron, it is not the case always. People afflicted with hemochromatosis (genetic disorder) may also show surplus iron build up, despite following a well-balanced healthy diet. In hemochromatosis, the small intestine tends to absorb more than normal amounts of iron from the ingested food. The excess iron absorbed, then gets deposited in the vital organs of the body, which is a cause for concern.
Iron Overload Side Effects
Initially the symptoms are not worrisome but as the iron levels keep on increasing, symptoms become serious. They are discussed below:
- Abdominal cramps
- Skin rash
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
- Poor sex drive
Too much iron, especially when taken in the form of supplements can slow down the bowel movement, which may lead to constipation. People who take iron pills on an empty stomach are more likely to suffer from constipation.
With too much iron in the diet, thick mop of hair may soon become thin. To put simply, iron overload will trigger excessive hair loss. Receding hair lines may soon be noticed if this iron imbalance is not corrected on time.
Persistently elevated levels of iron predisposes a person to liver problems. It is likely to damage the liver and cause jaundice (skin turns yellow). An enlarged liver has been associated with high blood iron levels. Liver damage due to iron build up can also manifest in the form of cirrhosis. In liver disorders, skin discoloration occurs and is often accompanied by ankle swelling.
As the blood iron level shoots up, one cannot expect a healthy heart. Abnormal heart beats or irregular heart palpitations is an indication of abnormally high levels of iron in blood. Studies show that too much iron in blood for prolonged periods can tighten and contract the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This may cause a sudden heart attack. Arteries becoming hard and stiff, eventually causing atherosclerosis, is yet another side effect of abnormally high levels of iron in blood. Experts are of the firm opinion that people with elevated blood iron levels are susceptible to coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure.
You might not have heard of iron-induced diabetes but this can happen when there are high levels of iron in blood. It is not clear how iron overload causes diabetes but studies indicate that too much iron induces proliferation of free radicals that may eventually reduce production of insulin. As the hormone insulin regulates blood sugar levels, its inadequate synthesis is likely to cause diabetes.
Consistently high iron levels in blood can interfere with normal thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. This side effect is relatively common in hemochromatosis patients. The pituitary gland located in the brain controls working of the thyroid gland. However, too much iron can trigger pituitary gland function, eventually resulting in thyroid problems
High Blood Pressure
This side effect is commonly observed in pregnant women, who take iron supplements in high doses to prevent iron deficiency anemia. During pregnancy, women are at increased risk of low blood iron levels. Therefore, pregnant women are often advised to take iron pills but an iron overdose can lead to elevated blood pressure levels.
Although hemochromatosis is categorized as a hereditary condition, it does not mean that the symptoms will be noticed soon after birth. It may take years before the person starts showing symptoms. Usually, the symptoms of this condition manifests when the person is in his 30s. It is very unlikely to experience too much iron symptoms in the early stages of life. Also, depending upon individual health and the severity of the condition, symptoms may differ. There have been cases, wherein this hereditary condition was accidentally detected in blood test but surprisingly the person had never complained about any high blood iron symptoms.
Chelation therapy that involves taking certain drugs to get rid of excess iron, is often used to treat hemochromatosis. Moderate consumption of iron rich foods, staying away from iron supplements as well as extraction of blood in small amounts on a regular basis can also help to alleviate the side effects associated with iron overload.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.