Iron is essential to our well being. Lack or too much of it can be damaging to our health.
Iron is one of the essential nutrients so that our body will perform properly each day. Exhaustion and fatigue are known results of iron deficiency. But an iron overload may bring damaging results to our body as well.
We live in a fast lane and complicated schedules these days. Since we are always on the go, we experience fatigue and exhaustion due to our heavy schedules. Health professionals tell us that we need iron so that we can go through our daily activities well.
Iron does many things for us. One of its functions is the metabolization of proteins and production of hemoglobin, enzymes, and the red blood cells (RBC). Iron is also vital for healthy skin, nails, and hair. A lower RBC count may impair the transfer of oxygen to different tissues and organs in the body.
People have always been anxious about getting to little iron in the diet and that is for a good reason. There was a time in world history when an iron deficiency was really a problem because it caused iron-deficiency anemia. Low hemoglobin resulted in low red blood cell count. It was overwhelming at that time.
But these days, iron deficiency is no longer a problem. The world has found ways to address iron deficiency. Today, excess iron becomes a bigger health issue. Excess iron brings serious health problems to people.
How Important Is Iron For Our Body?
We know that we need iron to survive, and therefore it is good for us. Iron helps produce hemoglobin which brings oxygen to our red blood cells. The lack of hemoglobin results in a lack of an efficient number of red blood cells that can cause weak muscles and organs which comprise our whole body.
Aside from helping carry oxygen throughout our body and blood, iron is also essential for growth, for electron transport, and for the synthesis of DNA. And for this, we need just the right amount of iron in our bodies. Too much iron or lack of it will give us serious health problems and worse, it can threaten our lives.
Iron is a highly reactive metal that attracts pathogens which can be harmful to the body. It can produce free radicals in the blood and damage the body tissues in the organs. This can even cause cancer.
One way where we can deal with iron is to secure it in our hemoglobin and ferritin, like a “cage” for the iron. But this is not always sufficient to restrict excess iron from being a problem.
How Does Our Body Handle Excess Iron?
Taking and absorbing too much iron is high these days. This is because of the modern diet styles and the way we produce and supply foods. There are supplemental iron, an abundance of iron in foods that we eat, and toxins in our food contribute to excess iron in our body. Aside from these factors are the environment, everyday stress, and even oral birth control. We are exposed from too much iron for fear of getting insufficient iron.
Excess iron is especially true to both men and women, although women have a natural means for removing excess iron through their menstruation. Women absorb iron 3 times compared to men because they have naturally higher estrogen levels. This increases women’s ability to absorb iron from the foods that they eat. This means that stopping or shortening menstruation can put them in serious excess iron condition.
Since men do not menstruate but they begin to build iron in their bodies when they reach the end of their puberty-related growth. This occurs between 18 and 21 years old.
A clear sign of having an excess iron, particularly in men, is in their growing belly, sometimes called “beer bellies. Usually, this condition is linked with too much intake of alcohol and beer. Beer bellies are actually caused by too much iron absorption, and alcohol helps the body to do. The iron can even cause obesity. This is because of the building up of more iron results to blood sugar problems, resistance to insulin, and dysregulation of metabolism.
The body tries to manage the excess of iron by depositing it to different tissues in different human organs like liver, pancreas, brain, muscles, eyes, etc. However, this may lead to different types of illnesses that degenerate the function of the body. Some of these health problems include diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and down syndrome in infants.
Having excess iron can also cause aging. Age spots are made of fatty brown mass call lipofuscin. This is iron and oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acid. And people with age spots have excess iron in their bodies. This is because the excess iron is brought to the skin when the body has run out of other places to deposit the iron.
How excess iron causes acne?
Here are some ways that excess iron can affect your body and cause skin problems, like acne:
With excess iron in your body, it can cause aging issues. This excess iron is stored in the skin when there is no more storage space in the body. Iron oxidizes the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that will later lead to the growth of lipid peroxides. This lipid peroxides will further form as toxic substances in the body and become what we call blemishes and age spots.
Pathogens need iron to thrive, survive, and multiply. Excess iron feeds the bad bacteria such as salmonella and e.coli that disturb the balance of the stomach. This will later lead to gut inflammation. When this occurs, pathogens emit a kind of toxin known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS). It weakens the guts mucosal membrane that results in a leaky gut. This is an easy way where pathogens and particles from food to enter the bloodstream and lead to inflammation. As the digestive system gets disturbed, it affects the skin that causes skin conditions like eczema and acne.
Excess iron in the body also causes insulin resistance which makes it hard for your body to digest carbohydrates properly. When excess insulin is in your body, it triggers more amount of sebum and cell production resulting in clogged skin. This will later develop a skin condition popularly known as acne.
Our body attempts to remove excess iron by depositing it in our liver to shield vital organs. But take note that even our liver can be damaged due to excess iron. This means that when our liver is not anymore capable of filtering toxins, they will find their way to our skin and will later trigger acne breakouts.
Excess iron feeds a fungus in our body called Candida. This naturally-occurring yeast Candida can cause a lot of skin issues. It is believed that this is due to excess iron that feeds these fungi.
Best Diet for People with Excess Iron
The best diet for people with too much iron should be foods low in iron. But there are many ways that can influence the amount of iron your body absorbed from the foods that you eat. There following are several dietary factors that may affect the manner your body absorbs iron:
- Heme and nonheme iron are two types of dietary iron. While heme iron is found in seafood and meat, nonheme is found in plants, seafood, meat, and fortified products. Heme iron is more bioavailable compared to nonheme iron. This means that heme iron is easily absorbed by the body.
- Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, helps enhance the bioavailability of nonheme iron. Seafood and meat have the ability to improve the absorption of nonheme iron.
- Calcium has the ability to reduce the bioavailability of the heme and nonheme iron.
- Phytate and polyphenols, where phytate (phytic acid) is a compound that can be found in legumes and grains. They reduce the absorption of iron. Polyphenols are compounds found in plant foods helps reduce the absorption of iron.
For people with excess iron, particularly patients with hemochromatosis, should avoid foods that are rich in iron.
Eat more vegetables and fruits.
Excess iron increases oxidative stress and free radical activity which damage your DNA. Antioxidants help protect your body from the damages that are caused by oxidative stress. Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables. They also contain essential vitamins like vitamin E, vitamin C, and flavonoids.
Most veggies are rich in iron like spinach and other leafy greens but these are nonheme iron. Nonheme iron will less likely absorb iron compared to heme iron. This means that if you have excess iron, choose vegetables. But if you are in doubt, consult with your doctor or a licensed dietitian.
Add legumes and grains in your diet.
Legumes and grains are rich in properties that help inhibit the absorption of too much iron, especially the phytic acid. For most people diet that is high in grains may put them at high risks for mineral deficiencies like zinc, iron, and calcium. But with people with iron overload, phytic acid helps keep the body from over-absorbing iron from foods.
Eggs are good.
Yes, eggs are good because they are a good source of nonheme iron. Its egg yolks contain phosphoprotein known as phosvitin. Some research claims that phosvitin with other minerals may stop the absorption of iron.
Coffee and tea have health benefits.
They have polyphenolic compounds known as tannins or tannic acid. The tannins in coffee and tea help stop the absorption of iron.
Enjoy benefits from lean protein.
We know that protein is an important part of a healthy diet. Several dietary sources of protein also contain iron. But it does not mean that you have to exclude meat in your diet plans. Add sources of protein in your diet. Choose that are lower in iron like chicken, turkey, tuna, and deli meat.
If you have excess iron, try avoiding these foods:
Too much red meat.
Red meat can be a healthy portion of a well-balanced diet if it is eaten in moderation. Red meat is a good source of heme iron. This means that iron in it is easily absorbed by your body. If you want red meat to be part of your diet, eat only two to three servings every week. Pair it with foods that help reduce the absorption of iron.
Seafood does not have too much iron but it may bring damage to your health. Seafood contains Vibrio vulnificus which is a type of bacteria. This bacteria is present in coastal waters and can infect shellfish. It is advisable that those who have high levels of iron should avoid raw shellfish.
Foods loaded with vitamins A & C
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a great enhancer of iron absorption. This vitamin is still essential but make sure to eat foods rich in vitamin c in moderation. Like vitamin C, vitamin A is shown to boost the absorption of iron. Leafy greens contain vitamin A, C, and iron. But take note, that the nonheme iron that is present in veggies are not easily absorbed, so it is okay eating veggies.
These foods are fortified with nutrients and most of these contain very high amounts of vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium. But if you have excess iron, avoid eating fortified foods because they increase the levels of your blood iron. Check first the iron content on nutrition labels before eating fortified foods.
Too much alcohol.
Drinking too much alcohol can damage your liver. And when you have excess iron, this can cause or worsen liver damage. Drink moderately, so they say! But if you are diagnosed with a type of liver problem because of hemochromatosis or excess iron, avoid drinking alcohol at any cost. It can further worsen your liver.
Supplements should be consulted with your doctor.
If you have iron overload, it is not advisable to take iron supplements, and any of these supplements:
- Iron can put you at higher risks for extremely high levels of iron.
- Vitamin C should be avoided with people diagnosed with hemochromatosis, or those with excess iron. You can still get your recommended amount of vitamin C from whole fruits and vegetables.
- Multivitamins should be taken with caution by those who have excess iron or diagnosed with hemochromatosis. Most multivitamins or multimineral supplements have a high content of iron, vitamin C and other nutrients that boost absorption of iron. Again, check the first food labels. Best if you consult with your doctor.
Our final notes,
Iron is essential and necessary for your body to live well and function well. But again, anything that is more than what we need, can damage our health also. Iron also plays an important role to have clear and healthy skin. And there are a lot of ways where we can reduce iron intake, or remove those excess iron in your body. The most important thing is that you are willing to do things that are good for your body. Self-discipline and consistent are the keys to a healthier you. If you are healthy, surely your skin is healthy and clear too.