What is Hemochromatosis?
Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition that causes the body to accumulate an excess of iron. Iron deficiency and iron overload are both relatively common, and the difference between the two is only a few milligrams. As the body does not have an efficient method of excreting iron, overload may easily occur. Other conditions besides hemochromatosis can cause the accumulation of iron, including chronic liver disease.
Long-term iron overload can have severe consequences. Liver cancer, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, cardiomyopathy and heart disease, and even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease have all been linked with excessive iron accumulation.
Natural interventions such as lactoferrin and milk thistle may help regulate iron levels and reduce iron overload.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors for Hemochromatosis?
- Inherited genetic mutations
- Repeated blood transfusions
- Chronic liver disease
- Excessive dietary iron intake
- Parenteral iron administration
- Long-term hemodialysis
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hemochromatosis?
- Skin hyperpigmentation
- Liver enlargement
- Joint problems
Note: The listed symptoms only occur after sufficient damage has been caused by iron overload. Annual blood testing for iron load can allow early detection and correction before damage occurs.
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Hemochromatosis?
- Phlebotomy (bloodletting)
- Iron chelation therapy
What are Emerging Therapies for Hemochromatosis?
- New iron chelating agents
- Erythrocytapheresis – selective removal of red blood cells while preserving blood volume
- Bone marrow transplantation
- Stem cell therapy
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Hemochromatosis?
- Limit dietary iron intake – red meat and alcohol consumption have been linked to higher serum iron burdens
- Avoid supplemental vitamin C above 500 mg a day as it may enhance iron absorption
- Donate blood annually
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Hemochromatosis?
- Lactoferrin. This iron-binding protein is found in milk and secreted by immune cells as an antibacterial compound. It binds and sequesters iron outside the bloodstream.
- Polyphenols. Several polyphenols, including quercetin, have been confirmed to have iron-chelating abilities in laboratory settings.
- Pectin. Pectin is an indigestible fiber that binds to non-heme iron and hinders its absorption. A small study showed iron absorption halved in patients who took a large dose of pectin.
- Milk thistle. Flavonoid constituents of milk thistle can chelate iron and quench hydroxyl radicals. Combining milk thistle with an injectable iron-chelating drug caused more effective reductions in serum iron proteins than the drug alone in certain patients.
- Curcumin. Several preclinical studies indicate curcumin can reduce iron-catalyzed oxidative damage of DNA, liver damage associated with iron accumulation, and iron-induced damage in amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Green tea. Catechins from green tea are powerful antioxidants and iron chelators. Some studies have shown high consumption of green tea (and extracts) reduced iron absorption.
- Alpha lipoic acid. Preclinical studies have shown that alpha lipoic acid may protect neurons from oxidative damage and reduce brain iron levels in older rats.
- Carnitine. Carnitine and its derivative carnitine esters (acetyl-L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine) are antioxidants that may help attenuate oxidative damage caused by iron overload.