Have you been told that you're anemic and automatically think you need more iron? Anemia does not necessarily mean you need iron. And, what about too much iron?

Iron is necessary to carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body, and for other cellular functions. Zinc, copper, iron, manganese and molybdenum oppose and cooperate with one another. If there is an increase or decrease in any of these minerals, there is probably an increase or decrease in one or more of the other minerals.

Stress and sleep deprivation can temporarily decrease serum iron levels. A desire to chew ice, eat chalk or dirt, and an inability to tolerate cold weather are common with iron anemia. Symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nocturnal leg cramps, and spoon-shaped finger/toe nails with ridges in nails. Fifty percent of infant anemics are often an allergic condition caused by pasteurized milk.

Possibilities of decreased serum iron include:

• B12 and B6 deficiency

• Parasites and/or Candida

• Stomach/gut dysfunction. Intestinal inflammation.

• Excessive blood loss from heavy menstrual periods

• Metforim - prescription drug for Type 2 diabetes

• Low HCL - hypochlorhydria

• Excess aspirin use; excess fluoride; excess zinc; excess calcium (inhibits iron absorption)

• H. Pylori

• Long distance runners

• Rheumatoid arthritis; Lupus

• Poor diet (too much sugar and starchy foods)

• Vegetarian diets

• Tyrosine deficiency - commonly overlooked problem seen in elderly patients living on the "tea and toast diet," lack of daily protein intake.

Fiber (phytate), and tannins found in tea, coffee, purple grapes, rice, walnuts and cocoa inhibit iron absorption. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) increases iron absorption. Increase intake of red meat, eggs, spinach and leafy greens.

What about too much iron?

Because of the health risks associated with high levels of iron, all men and women over 40 should have their iron levels tested. Symptoms of high iron include lack of energy, joint pain, loss of sex drive, abdominal pain and heart problems.

Alcohol and drugs, such as oral contraceptives, can increase iron levels. Iron overload is a silent killer that can result in:

• Free radical disease

• Endocrine problems

• Heart disease

• Cancer

• Diabetes

• Oxidative stress

• Liver cirrhosis

• Bacterial infections

• Dementia

• Stroke

If you have high iron levels:

• Decrease red meat consumption

• Avoid raw shellfish - it might contain bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus that can be deadly to people with high iron levels.

• Avoid cast-iron cookware

• Test for lead toxicity

• Look at liver function

• Avoid supplements with iron and copper

• Donate blood to lower and remove excess iron

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at www.PaulaOwens.com.


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