Iron is an element that is essential for regulation of cell growth and differentiation (The process by which cells become progressively more specialized; a normal process through which cells mature). A deficiency limits the amount of oxygen that is carried to the cells and can result in fatigue, poor work performance, decreased immunity and glossitis (inflamed tongue). It is important that you get enough iron but not too much. Men are much more susceptible to iron excess caused by a condition known as hemochromatosis. Primary hemochromatosis is usually caused by a specific genetic problem that causes too much iron to be absorbed. When people with this condition have too much iron in their diet, the extra iron is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and builds up in the body tissues, particularly the liver resulting in damage. Primary hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 1 of every 200 to 300 Americans. Most of the time it goes undiagnosed since symptoms can be vague (chronic fatigue or flu like for example). Often, organ damage has already occurred before the condition is diagnosed.
There has also been recent evidence that excess iron may be linked to heart disease and cancer. Iron stimulates the activity of free radicals. Free radicals are natural by-products of oxygen metabolism. They are thought to inflame and damage coronary arteries and blood vessels that supply the heart. This inflammation leads to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup that blocks the arteries to the heart). Free radicals are also thought to stimulate cancer cells.
Post- menopausal women can also be susceptible to excess iron. Talk to your doctor about getting your iron levels tested. “Serum ferritin” and “transferrin saturation” are recommended. It is important to get both tests done for a more accurate picture.
Only take an iron supplement or a multi-vitamin with iron if your doctor recommends it otherwise it is best to get iron from your diet.
Spinach, beef and oysters are good sources of iron. Only about 3% of men are iron deficient. Supplementing with iron is a case where it may do more harm than good. Visit with your doctor before starting or stopping any supplements.
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