Dietary and Lifestyle Considerations
Population studies suggest limiting dietary iron intake may lower serum iron burden. In one study of men and women with a high incidence of HFE mutations (approximately 40% of the test group had at least one mutation in their HFE gene), the frequency of red meat and alcohol consumption was associated with higher serum ferritin levels, and non-citrus fruits with lower serum ferritin levels in men (Milward 2008). Similarly, a study of women saw modest associations between the intake of alcohol, red meat and heme iron as well as serum ferritin (Cade 2005). In addition to the heme form of iron found in meats, non-heme iron can be found in plant-based foods (e.g., leafy greens, legumes, and fortified breads and cereals) (USDA 2011). The contribution of non-heme iron to iron overload is unclear; neither of the above studies reported significant increases in serum ferritin levels associated with non-heme iron consumption (Cade 2005; Milward 2008). The long-term effects of low-iron diets on disease progression are unknown; and clinical studies of dietary iron restriction are lacking.
Foods high in ascorbic (vitamin C) and citric acid (e.g., citrus fruits) may enhance the absorption of non-heme iron (Crawford 1995). Supplemental vitamin C greater than 500 mg per day should be avoided in patients with iron overload (Barton 1998) and especially avoided at mealtimes.
Yearly blood donation may also help to maintain iron levels. Blood donors had an average 33% decrease in serum ferritin levels compared to non-donors in one study (Cade 2005).
Life Extension advises against taking supplemental iron unless needed (i.e., due to a deficiency). Iron needs should be determined with yearly blood testing. Because excessive iron intake may be associated with, or increase the risk of several degenerative diseases, Life Extension multivitamins are formulated without iron. Pregnant women, due to increased iron requirements, should consult their physician to determine if iron supplementation is appropriate.