A Moment of Science

Iron Loading

Iron is necessary to maintaining a healthy body, but did you know too much can actually be dangerous?

A bowl of multi-colored vitamins against a black background

Photo: stevendepolo (flickr)

Eating less meat, cutting back on supplements and donating blood are all good ways to avoid overdoing it in the iron department.

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. Indeed, orur 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. In addition, getting too much iron — or “iron loading” — is associated with depression, arthritis, impotence, diabetes and cancer too.

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.

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