Can you get too much iron? That’s the question we discuss on this Moment of Science.
Did you know that the World Health Organization says that iron deficiency is the number one nutritional disorder in the world, with over thirty percent of the world’s population not getting enough of it?
However, in developed countries like the U.S., most adult men and postmenopausal women already get enough iron from their diets. Our body is very efficient in absorbing iron and much less efficient in getting rid of it. This means excess iron is stored in organs like the heart and liver, eventually causing cirrhosis or heart failure. Also, getting too much iron, or iron loading, is associated with depression, arthritis, impotence, and diabetes, among other conditions.
This is why you shouldn’t take iron supplements unless your doctor prescribes them. You should also drink less alcohol and eat foods fortified with iron, like processed meat, in moderation. If you do have excessive iron, you can easily lower your iron by donating blood, which is also why iron loading is rarer in menstruating women. Plus, there are drugs you can take that block iron absorption until your levels are back down to normal.