Iron 101 – Too Little or Too Much


by Mila McManus, MD

Our body requires iron to make blood. About 70% of the iron in our body is located in red blood cells where it forms hemoglobin. We must have sufficient stores of iron in order to make new red blood cells, and also replicate DNA for cellular repair. The intestinal tract is designed to take in needed iron supplies from the food we eat, and to block absorption when supplies are adequate. The body is not able to excrete excess iron once it is absorbed into the bloodstream[i].

Iron deficiency is quite common and can cause fatigue, anemia, shortness of breath, hair loss, and light-headedness.  When iron levels are low, oxygen delivery to cells and tissues is compromised. In regard to cancer, iron deficiency can increase the invasiveness and metastatic potential for growth rather than apoptosis, or death[ii].

While uncommon, some individuals have excess iron, a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis[iii]. There are, however, causes of excess iron that are not genetic[iv] and these are called secondary hemochromatosis. Detection of excess iron can be difficult, and symptoms usually develop over time. Most patients will have no symptoms.  As iron overload progresses, symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, bronze skin color, weakness, weight loss, low sex drive, and will eventually affect the liver, pancreas, thyroid, and/or heart.

It is important to have iron levels checked periodically, and have abnormalities addressed when applicable. Call our office  at 281-298-6742 to schedule an appointment.

Next week we will take a look at what causes iron levels to be too low or too high.

And the following week, for Part 3, we’ll discuss treatment options for iron overload and iron deficiency.


[ii] Winters, N. & Kelley, J. (2017). The metabolic approach to cancer: Integrating deep nutrition, the Ketogenic diet, and nontoxic bio-individualized therapies. Chelsea Green.



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