Hemochromatosis is a condition that is caused by excess amounts of iron. Over many years, the amount of iron builds up in the body and this can also be referred to as iron overload.
While iron is very important for the formation of red blood cells (which is why low iron causes anemia), there is definitely such thing as ‘too much of a good thing’ in this case. Having too much iron in the body can, therefore, cause damage to many parts of the body, such as the liver, the joints, the pancreas and the heart.
It normally affects people who are white, with a northern European background. It is also very common in countries with Celtic backgrounds (Ireland, Scotland, Wales).
The symptoms typically begin between the ages of 30 to 60 and include weight loss, tiredness, joint pain, irregular periods (women), erectile dysfunction (men), and more.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that there is no cure for hemochromatosis and no way to ‘get rid of it’. That said, there are things that you can do to manage the symptoms and to reduce the amount of iron that is in the body. In this post, we will look at 10 options you should consider if you have this destructive and lesser-known condition.
Phlebotomy is a treatment that is used to treat the condition of hemochromatosis and basically involves removing some blood.
Women who are currently on their periods will frequently experience excessive blood loss and this will very often result in low iron, and tiredness, paleness, and other symptoms associated with that. In fact, this is why many women are recommended to take an iron supplement at this time.
In effect, this is exactly what the phlebotomy is doing – removing a certain amount of blood in order to try and remove the iron content at the same time. You will lie back in a chair and a needle will then be used to remove a small amount of blood – usually about 500ml, which is just under a pint. That’s not a whole lot, but it can make a fairly big difference to the way you feel.
Induction means that the blood is removed on a frequent basis (weekly) and after this period (lasting about a year), you will then switch to ‘maintenance’ (removing blood less often – around once every two to three months).
2. Chelation Therapy
This therapy is used in cases where phlebotomies aren’t possible. For instance, if you have very thin or fragile veins, then it might not be possible to remove the blood safely.
Here then, medication is taken instead, in order to try and remove the iron from your blood. This works by then releasing the iron into the urine or the stool. There are several medications that are used in order to do this, but one of the better-known ones is deferasirox. This comes as a tablet and is normally taken on a daily basis.
While this might seem like the preferential option (no needles needed!), the truth is that this is currently an untested method and is currently unlicensed. So it is still a little while before it is used as the main or most recommended option.
3. Iron Reduction
You might think that it would make sense to try and avoid all the iron in your food right? Well, according to official sources, this won’t actually make a whole lot of difference. The amount of difference you’ll make by reducing your iron intake will be so minor as to have no real impact when combined with these medications.
That said, many people will nevertheless decide to reduce their iron intake in the hopes that it will likewise minimize the amount of iron in their bodies and this can of course have some benefit – however small.
Foods that are high in iron include a number of different salad leaves and vegetables, as well as red meats such as beef and a host of different kinds of seafood. You can do your own research, but keep in mind that it will likely be nigh impossible to completely avoid all sources of iron in your diet – and you shouldn’t try it!
Alcohol is something that you should avoid generally – it isn’t good for you, even if it is fun! Most of us choose to ignore this advice, but when you have a health condition such as hemochromatosis, it becomes all the more crucial that you follow it.
Apart from being a toxin that will give your body, even more, to worry about and even more to try and drive out of its system, alcohol in the form of beer, in particular, is also a common source of iron and can, therefore, make you feel quite unwell. Organ meats are also a particularly dense source of iron and so these should be avoided where possible as well.
At the same time, a host of different medications can also cause complications, particularly when you combine them with the meds that you are being given for your condition. It’s just more sensible to stay alcohol-free in this case.
While going low iron won’t necessarily help with the condition, what may help is simply improving your diet as much as possible. Those suffering from hemochromatosis are generally advised to try and eat as healthily as possible. By now, you likely know what this means: avoiding sugary foods, keeping your calorie intake generally low, avoiding excessive alcohol as already recommended etc.
If you can do this, then you will help to put your body in the best possible place so that it stands a strong chance of successfully fighting off the ensuing illness. Interestingly, becoming vegetarian is also often recommended as a way to reduce your amount of iron and thereby combat hemochromatosis.
There are certain supplements that you should avoid if you have hemochromatosis. The most obvious one of these is iron itself – iron supplementation isn’t recommended or necessary for most people with normal levels of the mineral as it is very easy to get through the diet.
It is sometimes recommended for women who are on their period however, and it is one of the first things that will be suggested for those suffering from anemia (a condition where iron levels are low).
7. Fortified Foods
Fortified foods are those that have had specific vitamins and minerals added. The idea behind this is to help us to get the things that our body needs that we might not otherwise be getting enough of.
One of the most common examples of this is a cereal that has been fortified with iron. The idea is to give young children more energy by giving them yet another source in their diet. This is good for those children, but not so good for those with hemochromatosis! There are other examples, so make sure that you check the packets of your favorite snacks – sweets are also often fortified in this way and others.
There aren’t many genuine ‘natural remedies’ when it comes to hemochromatosis. But the exciting news is that recent studies suggest that one option may be turmeric. This is because turmeric has been shown to be able to help remove excess iron. It is technically an ‘iron chelator’.
This is great news for those of us who have too much iron! Of course it’s early days and more studies need to be done before we can be sure – and of course it’s not going to completely reverse all of the unwanted effects – but seeing as there are so many other positive effects of turmeric, there’s really no good reason not to use it!
Apart from anything else, turmeric is able to:
Lower body fat by helping the body to burn fat from the stomach
Increase energy levels
Boost brain function, and particularly learning via ‘neuroplasticity’
And much more
It’s also fantastic for those with diabetes and may be useful in treating other conditions too. There’s certainly no harm in adding this to your routine!
9. Omega 3
One of the things that makes hemochromatosis unpleasant, is the amount of inflammation it can cause and the pain that is associated with this. This inflammation is a result of the excess iron, and there’s no way to address that at its core as we’ve seen.
That said, we can definitely address the symptoms themselves to manage the pain and discomfort, and one way to do this is by taking omega 3 in order to reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acid is found in oily fish and once again has a huge range of different benefits – including for the brain, for the energy levels, and for cell health.
10. Ferrum Metallicum
Ferrum metallicum is a homeopathic remedy that some people use in order to treat hemochromatosis with reported success.
Before you consider this option, try all of the others. The truth of the matter is that homeopathic remedies have no scientific basis and that means that there is no evidence – or even plausible reason to suspect – that they work.
Homeopathic medicine operates on the assumption that consuming substances that cause the same symptoms you are trying to combat will help the body to double down on fighting those symptoms. This is already an ‘invented’ hypothesis and not based on any actual evidence.
Moreover, the active components in homeopathic remedies are so heavily diluted as to ensure that there is not a single trace of the actual ingredient left in the final product. The argument made by homeopaths is that the ingredient has transferred its ‘lifeforce’ into the water – but again there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.
If it works for you, great. But keep in mind that you are paying for water and you are better off with the other nine options on this list!