Dr. Joseph Mercola
article can literally save the lives of many men, so please be
sure to e-mail it to the men in your lives, so they could benefit
from this critical information.)
If I had known what I am about to share with you when I first started
my medical training my dad would not have type 1 diabetes. When
I was in medical school I was never taught that elevated iron levels
can kill you and it wasn't until three years ago that I learned
However, it was too late for my dad. He developed raging, uncontrolled
diabetes with blood sugar levels in the 300s that did not respond
even to my dietary program.
He needed to be placed on insulin as his very high iron levels had
destroyed his pancreas' natural ability to make insulin.
Aside from type 1 diabetes, it is far more common for high iron
levels to cause cancer and heart attacks,
so please, please, please make sure you read this article and share
it with the men you love. Save them the grief my dad now has to
For the last few years, I have been checking the iron levels of
all the patients that come to see me. It has become quite obvious
that nearly half of the men I see have excessive amounts of iron
and would benefit from donating their blood at least one to six
times per year, depending on their iron overload status.
If you are a man, donating your blood can actually do you
more good than anyone else who might receive it. And since nearly
all adult men carry excess iron, I believe most all men would benefit
from regularly donating their blood.
However, this is not necessarily the case for women. Women who
still menstruate have lower iron levels, which is most likely due
to the iron lost during their monthly periods. Interestingly, women
who have low iron levels are less susceptible to developing heart
The Path of Excess Iron
Iron is nature's rusting agent. Having an excessive level of iron
in your body is one of the most potent ways that your body oxidizes,
or prematurely ages. Oxidation is what happens to most metals that
are exposed, unprotected, to the elements. For example, when you
leave metal lawn furniture outside for the summer and the paint
is damaged, the metal will rust. This process is called oxidation
(and yes, oxidation is also responsible for those unsightly rust
spots that can appear on your car.)
Yet, oxygen has an amazing duality. Without the proper levels,
we can't sustain life, but with too much oxygen aging is accelerated.
This results in a constant tension as our bodies deal with too much
or too little oxygen, and struggle to regain balance with the correct
amount needed to optimize our health.
Most men have a problem with too much iron because it is not readily
excreted through the body's usual methods of elimination such as
urine, bile and sweat. It is important to understand the two primary
ways men lose iron:
- Shedding of cells from the skin or gastrointestinal tract
- Chronic or sudden blood loss
Further Complications From the Food Supply
Unfortunately, the United States began fortifying the food supply
with iron in the 1940s to compensate for the increased need that
children and menstruating women have for iron. However, Sweden recognized
that iron fortification of their food supply was not wise and stopped
this practice in 1995. Similarly, they also stopped fluoridating
their water supply and stopped using mercury amalgam fillings.
In addition to the problem of accumulating too much iron from our
environment, many of us have a genetic predisposition to absorbing
too much iron. This condition is called either hemochromatosis or
What is Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis
Iron overload (genetic hemochromatosis) is one of the most frequent
inborn errors of metabolism. This disorder causes an excessive body
accumulation of iron. It is believed to affect one out of every
400 individuals of European ancestry. Since your body is limited
in the number of ways it can eliminate this excess iron, if you
have hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis, the iron eventually begins
to accumulate over time in vital organs of your body such as your
liver, bone marrow, pancreas, skin and testicles. The result of
this dangerous accumulation is the poor functioning of these organs.
Who is at Risk?
There are no warning symptoms of this disorder in the early stages.
Because of this, most people are unaware they have this condition
and only find out through a routine blood test of iron levels. In
some cases with males, symptoms may not surface until they reach
40-50 years of age. Females, on the other hand, who lose iron through
their menstrual cycle, are more prone to iron accumulation after
they reach menopause, or 15 to 20 years later than men on average.
of Iron Accumulation
Iron is the ultimate anti-antioxidant. (No, this is not a
typo!) Excess iron produces the exact opposite effect of antioxidants
like vitamin C and vitamin E. Also, it will cause the formation
of free radicals that can seriously damage your body.
Increases your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Increases your risk of cancer -- Most of us, including many
physicians, are absolutely unaware that iron is essential for
cancer cells to grow.
Excess iron can destroy the cells that produce insulin in your
pancreas and cause diabetes. While this may seem uncommon, it
did happen to my father.
Contributes to Alzheimer's disease -- Excess iron accumulation
in the brain is a consistent observation in Alzheimer's disease.
Increases the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and colon
Since heart disease is currently the most common cause of death
in the United States, it is important to understand why excess iron
contributes to it. The following provides you with some compelling
evidence related to the potential role of iron in atherosclerosis
(the build-up of plaques in the arteries):
The role of iron in oxidizing low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Iron chelators prevent endothelial cell damage by oxidized
The ability of iron to cause endothelial cell damage.
Iron chelators prevent endothelial cell dysfunction and vascular
smooth muscle proliferation.
Diagnosing Iron Overload
The routine screening for iron overload involves testing the iron
and ferritin levels in the blood. Ferritin, a blood protein, acts
as an effective measuring tool of the amount of iron being stored
in the body. This test should be done in the fasting state, as more
than 50 percent of people will have transiently elevated serum iron
levels after eating.
Since potentially serious complications could be treated with the
early detection of iron overload, it's very critical to catch this
condition in the early stages. Because it is not a common practice
to check iron levels during routine checkups, many cases of iron
overload are often overlooked.
Causes of Iron Overload
One of the most common causes of excess iron is the regular consumption
of alcohol. Alcohol consumed on a regular basis will increase the
absorption of any iron in your diet. If you are a man who consumes
alcohol, rest assured that it will increase your ability to absorb
iron at your meals.
That said, if you are a man who likes to have some wine with your
steak, you will be absorbing more iron than you need.
(There has been some confusion about consuming alcohol as a way
to protect against heart disease. Please keep in mind that this
effect is related to wine drinking, and the benefit is likely related
to the polyphenolic bioflavanoids in the grape seeds and skins,
not the alcohol itself. The alcohol content could actually worsen
one's health and contribute to the disruption of optimal levels
Other causes of high iron levels would be:
Cooking in iron pots or pans. Cooking acidic foods in these
types of pots or pans will cause even higher levels of iron
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.
A preferred treatment among the conventional medical community
is reducing blood iron by donating your blood. Some people will
not be able to donate their blood for a variety of different reasons.
For those individuals, they can remove their blood by getting a
prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy (withdrawal of blood from
arm veins). These treatments continue until the person normalizes
their iron levels. Serum ferritin is the most effective measure
of storage iron and this number needs to be reduced, ideally, to
between 50 and 100.
Donating your blood is an amazingly effective and inexpensive solution
for this problem. If, for some reason, the blood donor center is
unable to accept your blood for donation you can obtain a prescription
for therapeutic phlebotomy.
If your levels are too high -- above 100 -- it is very important
that you donate your blood. Below is a table indicating how often
I recommend donating your blood based on your iron ferritin level.
-2 times per year
times per year
times per year
||Every two months if possible
Again, please take the time to forward this article on to male
friends and family. As I've said, this problem is largely ignored
and a bit of awareness could ultimately save a life.
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