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Can excess iron be bad for you?

Excess iron levels in the body can have adverse health effects and should not be overlooked. While iron is essential for numerous biological processes, an excessive accumulation of iron, known as iron overload, can lead to oxidative stress and tissue damage.


Reactive Oxygen Species

One of the primary concerns associated with excess iron is its potential to promote the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) through Fenton reactions.


ROS can cause oxidative damage to cellular components, including DNA, proteins, and lipids. This oxidative stress contributes to the development of various chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, liver damage, and neurodegenerative disorders.


Disruption of Iron Regulatory Mechanisms

Iron overload can also disrupt the body's normal iron regulatory mechanisms, leading to an increased risk of infections.


Excess iron can serve as a nutrient source for certain pathogens, promoting their growth and survival. This can compromise the immune system's ability to combat infections effectively.

Organ Damage

Furthermore, excessive iron accumulation in organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas can result in tissue damage and dysfunction.


Conditions such as hemochromatosis, a hereditary disorder characterized by increased iron absorption, can lead to organ damage if left untreated.


Avoiding Iron Overload

To mitigate the risks associated with excess iron, it is crucial to maintain a balance in iron levels. Regular monitoring of iron status through blood tests, such as serum ferritin and transferrin saturation, can help identify and manage iron overload.


In cases of diagnosed iron overload disorders, therapeutic interventions may include phlebotomy (blood removal) or chelation therapy to reduce iron levels in the body.

References:

  1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (n.d.). Iron – Health Professional Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

  2. Ganz, T. (2011). Iron and infection. International Journal of Hematology, 93(6), 692-698.

  3. Pietrangelo, A. (2010). Hereditary hemochromatosis: pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. Gastroenterology, 139(2), 393-408.

  4. Andrews, N. C. (1999). Disorders of iron metabolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 341(26), 1986-1995.

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