Why you need to check your iron levels in blood

Iron is one of important mineral components in our body system. Iron is central in hemoglobin function and a pigment that aids in blood oxygen circulation as well.
Dr. Joseph Kamugisha
Dr. Joseph Kamugisha

Iron is one of important mineral components in our body system. Iron is central in hemoglobin function and a pigment that aids in blood oxygen circulation as well.

Iron deficiency is considered to be a problem as seen in some patients with anemia. This is as a result of death or reduced dysfunction of red bloods cells. However anemia due to iron deficiency is reversible in most cases especially if there is no other associated pathology.

Anemia is not always associated with iron deficiency only. It is in most cases a sign of many life threatening conditions. Proven scientific studies have actually proved that some types of anemia can also lead to iron overload. This is a situation where a patient suffers from both anemia and iron overload.

Patients with iron deficiency usually presents with symptoms like tiredness and generalized body weakness as a result will have poor work performance in their daily duties. Also common symptoms include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath especially on effort, increased risk of infections, and lightheadedness

Body complaints such as generalized body weakness and lethargy are common in both cases of anemia and iron overload; therefore you need to consult your physician for accurate diagnosis once you feel any of the mentioned symptoms.

A good diagnosis will always guide you on better management of the problem. Taking iron supplements before a complete diagnosis can make a patient suffer double setbacks. Iron supplements might lead to iron overload in anemic patient.

It is always advisable to carryout blood tests for iron regularly and at least two times a year. Once there is an indication of low iron for more than 18 months, the physician will have to carry out investigative blood work to trace the origin.

This is because sometimes low iron can be as a result of medications, chronic health conditions like asthma or colitis or dietary habits. However, this also depends of the type of iron deficiency.

There are usually two types of dietary iron; non-heme and heme.

The Heme iron is found in meat, fish and poultry only. The heme iron is much better absorbed than the non-heme iron found in vegetables, iron supplements and fortified foods.

This information also explains why some vegetarians may have to take iron supplements when they suffer iron deficiency.

Foods with high calcium content like milk interfere with iron absorption and this is why iron deficiency is common in many cattle keepers.

High-fiber foods like whole grains that contain phytates diminish the amount of iron that enters blood.

However vitamin C and other acids that are present in fruits, fruit juices and some vegetables increase iron absorption.

Another phenomenon associated with iron overload is hemochromatosis with genetic mutations that cause excess absorption of iron by some vital organs in the body.

The excess iron absorption accumulates in body tissues to cause iron overload manifested by signs such as joint pains, generalized body weakness, sexual dysfunction, liver damage seen in cirrhosis, heart failure, and diabetes mellitus as it affects the pancreas by reduction in pancreatic enzyme activity as well as insulin secretion.

The potent solution for iron overload is frequent blood donation to minimize excess iron that gets deposited in the heart, liver and pancreas to cause problems.

For the heart, it is normally associated with cardiac arrhythmias and eventually chronic heart insufficiency. Heme iron consumption can reflect the effect of saturated fats from red meat, the richest source of heme iron, more than that of iron itself.

For the liver it is associated with liver cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer. For the pancreas as said before the direct effect is diabetes mellitus.studies have actually shown that donation of blood by people with high levels of stored iron, their insulin sensitivity and risk of diabetes diminishes.

While the risk of cancer from too much iron is very low except in people with genetic mutations or hemochromatosis. The evidence has been indicated in the links between high levels of red meat consumption and cancers of the colon as well as the prostate.

Iron overload is also associated with neuro-degenerative diseases like the Parkinson’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

Based on our discussions above, Red meat carries the most dangerous type of iron. It should be fed upon for at least two times a week, poultry and fish is preferable.  
Dr Joseph Kamugisha is a resident oncologist in Jerusalem, Israel

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