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Reproduced from original article:
by: Sara Middleton, staff writer | December 23, 2020
(NaturalHealth365) Iron deficiency anemia: this condition, which affects about 5 million Americans, develops when there isn’t enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body due to a lack of iron intake and/or absorption. Additional estimates show that 10 million Americans have at least some level of deficiency of this crucial mineral involved in growth and development.
Sadly, the decades-long push by the dairy lobby to drink cow’s milk because it’s apparently “good for growing bones” could be partly to blame for the incidence of iron deficiency, especially in infants and young children. And if you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “Is dairy good?,” this surprising correlation may give you a new perspective.
Consumption of cow’s milk a possible risk factor for iron deficiency in kids
It might surprise you to know that drinking cow’s milk has been associated in scientific literature as a possible risk factor for iron deficiency. As explained in one 2011 paper from Nutrition Reviews, there are a few possible explanations for this unexpected finding:
- First, dairy is low in iron. So, when parents start giving their children more dairy products, kids often end up eating less iron-rich foods (including peas, seafood, beans, dark leafy greens, and dried fruits), which places them at risk for an iron-deficient diet.
- Second, compounds naturally found in cow’s milk, including a protein called casein and the mineral calcium, impair the ability of a child’s digestive system to absorb iron from other food sources. In other words, not only are children who consume dairy likely getting less iron in their diet, but the iron they are getting is not being properly absorbed!
- Third, a phenomenon described as “occult intestinal blood loss” associated with cow’s milk consumption occurs in about 40% of otherwise healthy infants, at least up until one year of age. This is a major reason why babies under one year old should not be given cow’s milk, according to Mayo Clinic.
Interestingly, increased cow’s milk consumption early in childhood has also been proposed as a possible risk factor for obesity later in life.
Does a child in your life suffer from iron deficiency anemia? Here are 5 warning signs all parents of young kids should know
Overall, the possible complications of iron deficiency anemia in children is enough to have many parents re-think the need to give their children dairy products. Potential complications include heart problems (e.g., rapid heartbeat), growth problems, impaired brain function, and increased vulnerability to infections.
Here are five key warning signs of iron deficiency anemia to look out for in any child, and especially a child who eats dairy:
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- Pale skin (especially near the eyelids, hands, and nails)
- Poor appetite
- Weakness and fatigue
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Rarely, severe cases of iron deficiency anemia can also lead to an unusual condition called pica, in which children crave and eat non-food items like chalk, ice, and dirt.
Bottom line: It could be time to chat with your pediatrician and rethink your decision to feed your child dairy products, including cow’s milk. Also, be sure to give your child plenty of iron-rich foods as well as foods rich in vitamin C (e.g., broccoli, grapefruit, oranges, and strawberries) since this nutrient enhances iron absorption.
Sources for this article include:
Reproduced from original article:
Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked December 02, 2020
- Researchers found a connection between the intake of iron and seed oils high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) in people with Type 2 diabetes
- Both high dietary iron intake and an elevated iron/PUFA ratio were associated with DPN
- While the study evaluated PUFA intake of omega-6 and omega-3 together, it was the ratio of iron/omega-6 that showed a significant association with DPN
- One way to help stop the oxidative damage caused by iron intake in the presence of too many omega-6s is to take carnosine or its primary precursor, beta-alanine
- Many chronic diseases appear to be the result of a catastrophic cascade of health declines triggered by the long-term consumption of omega-6 seed oils
- To protect your health, it is vital that you reduce your intake of industrially processed seed oils as much as you can, which includes virtually all processed foods and fast foods that contain them
The evidence continues to accumulate that avoiding toxic industrially processed seed oils, often referred to as “vegetable oils,” is essential to protecting your health, and recent research adds dietary iron to the increased health risks as well, particularly for those with Type 2 diabetes.1
Examples of seed oils high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) include soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, rapeseed (canola), corn and safflower.2 Omega-6 is considered to be proinflammatory because of the most common variety, linoleic acid, which will radically increase oxidative free radicals and cause mitochondrial dysfunction.3
But all seed oils have linoleic acid, even “healthy” ones like avocado and olive oil, both of which have the majority of commercially available products adulterated with other seed oils that have even higher levels of linoleic acid. So, only purchase trusted and tested brands and once you have them put the oil in the fridge. The linoleic acid will remain liquid. Simply pour that oil in the trash and your olive or avocado oil will be healthier.
The intake of omega-6 seed oils may also promote inflammation through arachidonic acid by increasing the production proinflammatory compounds. Further, as researchers noted in the journal Nutrients, “In addition, a few studies suggested that omega-6 PUFA is related to chronic inflammatory diseases such as obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.”4
Iron, meanwhile, while necessary for oxygen delivery, mitochondrial electron transport, DNA synthesis and more, can generate oxidative stress that leads to tissue damage, and previous research has found dietary iron intake may be associated with the risk of diabetes. Now, researchers have demonstrated a connection between the intake of iron and PUFAs with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) in people with Type 2 diabetes.5
Link Found Between PUFAs, Iron Intake and DPN
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a form of nerve damage that may occur in people with diabetes. The damage occurs, most often, in your legs and feet and is a significant cause of falls and fractures in this population. In addition to long-term diabetes, other risk factors for DPN include insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar, and oxidative stress is believed to be a key contributing factor.6
For the featured study, Korean researchers looked into the association of iron intake and the ratio between iron intake and PUFA intake (iron/PUFA) with DPN in 147 people with Type 2 diabetes. Both high dietary iron intake and an elevated iron/PUFA ratio were associated with DPN, suggesting “the importance of the dietary pattern of iron and PUFA intake in individuals with type 2 diabetes.”7
Iron overload has previously been found to make oxidative stress injury in neurons worse in the presence of high sugar concentrations, and the researchers suggested that insulin resistance and pancreatic beta cell dysfunction, which are caused by oxidative stress, could be behind the association between iron and DPN.8
The study had limitations, however, particularly in regard to PUFAs, as it did not interpret the study results in relation to omega-6 and omega-3 separately. Omega-3s have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory role that’s been linked to many health benefits.
Most people get far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3, thus ending up with a lopsided ratio, and this ratio is what impacts health. Ideally, this ratio would be close to 1-to-1. The key, however, is not to necessarily increase omega-3, but to decrease omega-6 to improve the ratio. The featured study evaluated PUFA intake of omega-6 and omega-3 together, but noted that it was the ratio of iron/omega-6 that showed a significant association with DPN:9
“Considering the PUFA-related antioxidant effect observed in an iron-related, pro-oxidant environment, we calculated the iron/PUFA ratio and found that a higher iron/PUFA ratio was associated with a higher OR (odds ratio) of DPN. This finding suggests that the ratio of iron to PUFA might be an important marker of DPN and can be used as an indicator to screen for or prevent DPN in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
In addition, even though the ratio iron/omega-6 PUFA, rather than the ratio iron/omega-3 PUFA, showed a statistically significant association with DPN after adjusting for confounders, we need to be cautious in interpreting these data. A relatively small amount of omega-3 PUFA compared with omega-6 PUFA might bring about these non-significant results.”
The Importance of Carnosine, Especially if You’re Vegan
One way to help stop the oxidative damage caused by iron intake in the presence of too many omega-6s is to take carnosine or its primary precursor, beta-alanine. Carnosine is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids: beta-alanine and histidine. It’s a potent antioxidant, the highest concentrations of which are found in your muscles and brain.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you will have lower levels of carnosine in your muscles. This is one reason why many strict vegans who do not properly compensate for this and other nutritional deficiencies tend to have trouble building muscle. Carnosine itself is not very useful as a supplement as it is rapidly broken down into its constituent amino acids by certain enzymes. Your body then reformulates those amino acids back to carnosine in your muscles.
A more efficient alternative is to supplement with beta-alanine, which appears to be the rate limiting amino acid in the formation of carnosine. Eating beef is known to efficiently raise carnosine levels in your muscle,10 which is why if you’re a vegetarian or vegan this supplement may be particularly important.
Chronic Disease Rooted in Long-Term Consumption of Seed Oils
Many chronic diseases appear to be the result of a catastrophic cascade of health declines triggered by the long-term consumption of seed oils (omega-6). For instance, Dr. Chris Knobbe, an ophthalmologist and the founder and president of the Cure AMD Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), believes age-related macular degeneration (AMD) should be called diet-related macular degeneration instead.
Knobbe has studied the toxic aldehydes that result from omega-6 fats. When you consume an omega-6 fat, it first reacts with a hydroxyl radical or peroxide radical, producing a lipid hydroperoxide.
This lipid hydroperoxide then rapidly degenerates into toxic aldehydes, of which there are hundreds, which in turn lead to cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, mutagenicity carcinogenicity and more, along with being obesogenic, at very low doses. Knobbe explained the complex process in his presentation at the ALLDOCS annual 2020 meeting:11
“Here’s what excess omega-6 does in a westernized diet: induces nutrient deficiencies, causes a catastrophic lipid peroxidation cascade, is what this does … This damages … a phospholipid called cardio lipid in the mitochondrial membranes. And this leads to electron transport chain failure … which causes mitochondrial failure and dysfunction.
And this leads first to reactive oxygen species, which feeds back into this peroxidation cascade. So, you’re filling up your fat cells and your mitochondrial membranes with omega-6, and these are going to peroxidize because of the fact that they are polyunsaturated.
All right, next thing that happens, insulin resistance, which leads to metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. When the mitochondria fail you get reduced fatty acid, beta oxidation, meaning you can’t burn these fats properly for fuel.
So now you’re … carb dependent and you’re heading for obesity. So, you’re feeling tired. You’re gaining weight. Your mitochondria are failing to burn fat for fuel … this is a powerful mechanism for obesity.
So, the energy failure at the cellular level leads to nuclear mitochondrial DNA mutations, and this leads to cancers. Three weeks on a high-PUFA diet causes heart failure in rats — three weeks. And this also leads to apoptosis and necrosis. And of course, that’s how you get disorders like AMD, Alzheimer’s.”
The Problem With Linoleic Acid
At the root of the harmful biochemical reactions triggered by seed oils is linoleic acid, which is an 18-carbon omega-6 fat. As mentioned, linoleic acid is the primary fatty acid found in PUFAs and accounts for about 80% of the fatty acid composition of vegetable oils. Omega-6 fats must be balanced with omega-3 fats in order not to be harmful, but this isn’t the case for most Americans.
To make matters even worse, most of the omega-6 people eat has been damaged and oxidized through processing. “Most of this linoleic acid, when it oxidizes, it develops lipid hydroperoxides and then these rapidly degenerate into … oxidized linoleic acid metabolites,” says Knobbe.12
OXLAMs (oxidized linoleic acid metabolites) create a perfect storm, as they are cytotoxic, genotoxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, atherogenic and thrombogenic, according to Knobbe. Their atherosclerosis and thrombogenic actions are especially concerning because they can produce strokes and clots, however metabolic dysfunction can also occur.
During the lipid peroxidation cascade caused by the excess consumption of omega-6 seed oils, PUFAs accumulate in your cell membranes, leading to a peroxidation reaction. As mentioned, because there are so many reactive oxygen species it leads to the development of insulin resistance at the cellular level.
Dr. Paul Saladino, a physician journalist, in a podcast, also explained that linoleic acid “breaks the sensitivity for insulin at the level of your fat cells,”13 essentially making them more insulin sensitive — and, since your fat cells control the insulin sensitivity of the rest of your body by releasing free fatty acids, you end up with insulin resistance.
Unfortunately, even eating conventionally raised chicken, which is fed corn, is problematic, as the meat becomes high in omega-6 linoleic acid.14 As Saladino points out, eating a lot of chicken adds to your vegetable oil consumption and further skews your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Avoiding Processed Seed Oils Will Protect Your Health
To protect your health, it is vital that you reduce your intake of industrially processed seed oils as much as you can. This means eliminating all of the following oils:
Even too much organic, biodynamic olive oil can shift your ratio in the wrong direction, as olive oil is also a source of omega-6 linoleic acid, so be sure you use the trick I described above to lower the LA content of olive oil. It’s also important to avoid nearly all processed foods and fast foods, as virtually all of them contain these toxic oils. The easiest way to do this is to prepare the majority of your food at home so you know what you are eating.
If you want to know how much linoleic acid you’re eating, simply go to cronometer.com and enter your food, making sure that it is accurately weighed. For optimal health, try to get your intake under 10 grams per day.
- 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Nutrients 2020, 12(11), 3365; doi: 10.3390/nu12113365
- 2 Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb; 21(3): 741.
- 3 BMJ Open Heart 2018;5:e000946. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2018-000946
- 10 Science Direct, Carnosine
- 11 ALLDOCS Annual Meeting 2020
- 12 YouTube June 13, 2020
- 13 YouTube June 23, 2020
- 14 Journal of Dairy Science January 2018; 101(1): 222-232
Reproduced from original article:
- Iron is essential for life as it transfers oxygen to your tissues. Hemoglobin, the protein in your red blood cells, contains iron at its core, which reversibly binds to oxygen and supplies your tissues with it
- Without proper oxygenation, your cells quickly start dying. However, excess iron can also cause severe problems by encouraging oxidation and tissue damage
- Common health problems associated with elevated iron levels include cirrhosis, cancer, hepatitis C, gouty arthritis, arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and more
- Recent research shows excessive iron damages mitochondrial function and impairs your heart function by inducing the death of muscle cells in your heart
- Your iron level can be easily determined with a serum ferritin test. I believe this is one of the most important tests that everyone should have done on a regular basis as part of a preventive, proactive health screen
Iron is necessary for life as it essential to transfer oxygen into your tissues. Hemoglobin, the protein in your red blood cells that contains iron at its core, reversibly binds to oxygen and supplies your tissues with it. Without proper oxygenation, your cells quickly start dying.
Iron is also a key component of various proteins and enzymes, and is involved in energy production, immune function, metabolism and endocrine function. For these reasons, low iron (anemia) can cause significant health problems.
However, what many don’t realize is that excess iron is actually more common than too little, and iron overload can be even more problematic, as detailed in “Why Managing Your Iron Level Is Crucial to Your Health,” which features my interview with Gerry Koenig, former chairman of the Iron Disorders Institute and the Hemochromatosis Foundation.
Because your body has a limited capacity to excrete iron, it can easily build up in organs like your liver, heart and pancreas. This is dangerous because iron is a potent oxidizer that can damage your tissues and contribute to a variety of health problems, including but not limited to:
|Cirrhosis1||Cancer, including bowel,2 liver3 and lung cancer4 — Elevated ferritin is associated with a 2.9 times higher risk of death from cancer5 and blood donors have been shown to have a lower likelihood of developing certain cancers than nondonors6,7|
|Hepatitis C8 — As noted in a 2007 paper,9 even “mild or moderate increase of iron stores appears to have significant clinical relevance” in this and other conditions||Gouty arthritis10|
|Cardiac arrhythmia11||Cardiovascular disease12|
|Type 2 diabetes13 and metabolic syndrome — Elevated ferritin has been linked to dysfunctional glucose metabolism,14 raising the risk of diabetes fivefold in men and fourfold in women, a magnitude of correlation similar to that of obesity.15
High ferritin also doubles your risk of metabolic syndrome,16 a condition associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, liver disease and heart disease
Iron Overload Impairs Mitochondrial Function
Iron causes significant harm primarily by catalyzing a reaction within the inner mitochondrial membrane. When iron reacts with hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl free radicals are formed.
These are among the most damaging free radicals known, causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn is at the heart of most chronic degenerative diseases. The hydroxyl free radicals are an oxidative stress that will also damage your cell membranes, stem cells, protein and DNA.
In addition to all this damage, recent research18 shows excessive iron also promotes apoptosis and ferroptosis in cardiomyocytes. Apoptosis is the programmed cell death of diseased and worn-out cells, and as the name implies, ferroptosis refers to cell death that is dependent on and regulated by iron specifically.19
Cardiomyocytes are muscle cells in your heart that generate and control the rhythmic contractions in your heart, thus allowing it to maintain a healthy rhythm.20 In short, this tells us that excess iron has the ability to impair your heart function by inducing mitochondrial abnormalities and the death of muscle cells in your heart.
How Iron Overload Affects Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Aside from raising your risk of heart-related problems, iron overload is also of particular concern in Alzheimer’s disease,21,22,23 the prevalence of which has dramatically risen in recent decades.
According to research24,25 published in 2018, buildup of iron — which increases oxidative stress and has a type of “rusting effect” in your brain — is common in most Alzheimer’s patients. As noted by the authors:26
“In the presence of the pathological hallmarks of [Alzheimer’s disease], iron is accumulated within and around the amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, mostly as ferrihydrite inside ferritin, hemosiderin and magnetite.
The co-localization of iron with amyloid-beta has been proposed to constitute a major source of toxicity. Indeed, in vitro, amyloid-beta has been shown to convert ferric iron to ferrous iron, which can act as a catalyst for the Fenton reaction to generate toxic free radicals, which in turn result in oxidative stress.”
Other research 27 suggests elevated cerebrospinal fluid iron levels are strongly correlated with the presence of the Alzheimer’s risk allele APOE-e4, and that elevated levels of iron in your brain may actually be the mechanism that makes APOE-e4 a major genetic risk factor for the disease.
A primary focus of conventional treatment so far has been to clear amyloid proteins, but while that approach seems logical, such attempts have met with limited success.
Researchers now suggest clearing out excess iron may be a more effective way to reduce damage and slow or prevent the Alzheimer’s disease process. You can learn more about this in “How Excess Iron Raises Your Risk for Alzheimer’s.”
Iron Dysregulation Is Surprisingly Common
It’s easy to get too much iron as it’s commonly added to most multivitamins. Many processed foods are also fortified with iron. Two servings of fortified breakfast cereal may provide as much as 44 milligrams (mg) of iron in some cases,28 bringing you dangerously close to the upper tolerance limit of 45 mg for adults, and well over the recommended daily allowance, which is a mere 8 mg for men and 18 mg for premenopausal women (i.e., women who still get their monthly period).29
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t understand or appreciate the importance of checking for iron overload. One of the greatest risk factors for iron overload is having a condition called hemochromatosis30 — one of the most prevalent genetic diseases in the U.S. — which impairs your body’s iron regulation, causing you to absorb higher than normal amounts.
The C282Y gene mutation is thought to be responsible for the majority of hemochromatosis cases. It takes two inherited copies of the mutation (one from your mother and one from your father) to cause the disease (and even then, only some people will actually get sick).
More than 30% of Americans are thought to have two copies of this defective gene31 and, according to one study,32 an estimated 40% to 70% of those with two defective C282Y genes will develop clinical evidence of iron overload.
If you have just one copy, you won’t become ill but you will still absorb slightly more iron than the rest of the population,33,34 thus placing you at increased risk for overload and the complications associated with it.
Common Factors That Increase Your Risk of Iron Overload
Virtually all adult men and postmenopausal women are also at risk for iron overload since they do not lose blood on a regular basis. Blood loss is the primary way to lower excess iron, as the body has no active excretion mechanisms. Other potential contributors to high iron levels include:
- Cooking in iron pots or pans — Cooking acidic foods in these types of pots or pans will elevate iron absorption.
- Eating processed food products like cereals and white breads fortified with iron — The iron used in these products is inorganic iron, not much different from rust, and it is far more dangerous than the iron in meat.
- Drinking well water that is high in iron — The key here is to make sure you have some type of iron precipitator and/or a reverse osmosis water filter.
- Taking multiple vitamins and mineral supplements, as both of these frequently have iron in them.
- Regularly consuming alcohol, as this will increase the absorption of iron in your diet.
How to Check for and Address Iron Overload
Checking your iron levels is easy and can be done with a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test. I believe this is one of the most important tests that everyone should have done on a regular basis as part of a preventive, proactive health screen. The test measures the carrier molecule of iron, a protein found inside cells called ferritin, which stores the iron. If your ferritin levels are low, it means your iron levels are also low.
The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Below 20 ng/ml is a strong indicator that you are iron deficient, and above 80 ng/ml suggests you have an iron surplus. An ideal range is between 40 and 60 ng/ml.
Please note that many health sites will tell you that “normal” can be much higher than that, but as I discuss with Koenig in the earlier referenced article, levels over 300 ng/ml are particularly toxic and will eventually cause serious damage.
If you have hemochromatosis, or if a serum ferritin blood test reveals elevated iron levels, donating your blood two or three times a year is the safest, most effective and inexpensive remedy. If you have severe overload you may need to do more regular phlebotomies.
If, for some reason, a blood donor center is unable to accept your blood for donation, you can obtain a prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy. At the same time, you’ll also want to avoid consuming excess iron in the form of supplements, in your drinking water (well water), from iron cookware or fortified processed foods.
You can also limit iron absorption by not eating iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, as the vitamin C boosts iron absorption. If needed, you could also take a curcumin supplement. Curcumin acts as a potent chelator of iron and can be a useful supplement if your iron is elevated.
GGT Test Is Also Advisable to Rule Out Iron Toxicity
Aside from a serum ferritin test, a gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) test can also be used as a screening marker for excess free iron and is a great indicator of your risk for sudden cardiac death, insulin resistance, cardiometabolic disease35 and chronic kidney disease36 as well.
In recent years, scientists have discovered GGT is highly interactive with iron. Low GGT tends to be protective against higher ferritin, so if your GGT is low, you’re largely protected even if your ferritin is a bit higher than ideal.
When both your serum ferritin and GGT are high, you are at significantly increased risk of chronic health problems and early death,37,38 because then you have a combination of free iron (which is highly toxic), and the iron storage to keep that toxicity going.39 That said, even if your ferritin is low, having elevated GGT levels is cause for concern and needs to be addressed.
For this reason, getting a GGT test in addition to a serum ferritin test is advisable to rule out iron toxicity. The ideal level of GGT is below 16 units per liter (U/L) for men and below 9 U/L for women. Above 25 U/L for men and 18 U/L for women, your risk of chronic disease increases significantly.
To lower your GGT level you’ll need to implement strategies that boost glutathione, a potent antioxidant produced in your body, as GGT is inversely related to glutathione. As your GGT level rises, your glutathione goes down. This is in fact part of the equation explaining how elevated GGT harms your health. By elevating your glutathione level, you will lower your GGT.
The amino acid cysteine, found in whey protein, poultry and eggs, plays an important role in your body’s production of glutathione. Red meat, which does not contain cysteine, will tend to raise GGT, as will alcohol, so both should be avoided.40
Certain medications can also raise your GGT. If this is the case, please confer with your doctor to determine whether you might be able to stop the medication or switch to something else. General detoxification is another important component if your GGT is high, as your liver’s job is to remove toxins from your body. The fact that your GGT is elevated means your liver is under stress.
Annual Ferritin Test Is an Important Health Screen
For adults, I strongly recommend getting an annual serum ferritin test to confirm you’re neither too high nor too low. When it comes to iron overload, I believe it can be every bit as dangerous to your health as vitamin D deficiency, and checking your iron status is far more important than your cholesterol.
While a full iron panel that checks serum iron, iron-binding capacity and ferritin can be helpful, you really only need the serum ferritin test, plus the GGT test. Your doctor can write you a prescription for these tests, or you can order them from HealtheIron.com.
Again, if your ferritin is high, the easiest way to lower it is to donate blood two or three times a year. U.S. legislation allows all blood banks to perform therapeutic phlebotomy for hemochromatosis or iron overload. All you need is a doctor’s order.
Also, unless you have a lab-documented iron deficiency, avoid iron-containing multivitamins, iron supplements and mineral supplements that contain iron if your levels are already high.
- 1 Medical Science Monitor 2016; 22: 2144–2151
- 2 Cell Reports 2012 Aug 30;2(2):270-82
- 3 Hopkinsmedicine.org, Hemachromatosis (PDF)
- 4 Int J Cancer. 1994 Feb 1;56(3):379-82
- 5 J Natl Cancer Inst. 1986 Apr;76(4):605-10.
- 6 Int J Epidemiol. 1990 Sep;19(3):505-9
- 7 J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 Apr 16;100(8):572-9
- 8, 9 American Journal of Hematology 2007; 82:1142–1146 (PDF)
- 10 Renal and Urology News, September 3, 2018.
- 11 Archives of Medical Science 2018 Apr; 14(3): 560–568
- 12, 13 Diabetes Care 2007 Jul; 30(7): 1926-193
- 14 Diabetes Care 1997 Mar;20(3):426-8
- 15 Diabetes Care 1999 Dec;22(12):1978-83
- 16 Diabetes Care 2004 Oct;27(10):2422-8
- 17 Frontiers in Neuroscience 2018; 12: 632
- 18 Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics February 15, 2020; 680: 108241
- 19 Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2019; 12: 34
- 20 Microscopemaster.com, Cardiomyocytes
- 21 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012;30(1):167-82
- 22 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2013;37(1):127-36
- 23 JAMA Neurology 2017;74(1):122-125
- 24 Scientific Reports 2018; 8: 6898
- 25 Pursuit, Rusty Brains Linked to Alzheimer’s
- 26 Scientific Reports 2018; 8: 6898, Introduction
- 27 Nature Communications May 19, 2015
- 28, 30, 31 Nautilus December 20, 2018
- 29 National Institutes of Health, Iron Fact Sheet
- 32 American Journal of Epidemiology 2001 Aug 1;154(3):193-206
- 33 Lancet 2002 Jan 19;359(9302):211-8
- 34 Clinical Chemistry 2001 Feb;47(2):202-8
- 35 European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 2014 Dec;21(12):1541-8
- 36 Disease Markers 2017; 2017:9765259
- 37 Leading Contributors to Mortality Risk in Life Insurance Applicants
- 38 Journal of Insurance Medicine 2012;43(3):162-8
- 39 Disease Markers 2015; 2015: 818570
- 40 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition April 2004; 79(4): 600-605
Reproduced from original article:
- Flesh-eating disease (necrotizing fasciitis) can be caused by several different organisms. In cases where the infection is contracted through contact with seawater, the culprit is typically Vibrio vulnificus, a particularly dangerous Vibrio species that occurs naturally in warm seawater
- Having liver disease increases your risk of V. vulnificus infection by 800% and your risk of death from it is 200 times higher than those with healthy livers
- Having diabetes, HIV, thalassemia or cancer also raises your risk of Vibrio infection, as does taking antacids
- Iron overload may be a key factor in life-threatening Vibrio infections. High iron provides prime growth conditions for V. vulnificus, and minihepcidin, an iron-lowering drug, has been shown to cure the infection by inhibiting the bacteria’s growth
- Vibrio bacteria have a high affinity for attachment to human skin. In one study, all participants had Vibrio bacteria on their skin after swimming in seawater
The very idea of flesh-eating bacteria is horrifying and the real-world effects can indeed be devastating, necessitating the removal of large portions of flesh or amputation of limbs. Its effects can also be lethal.
July 15, 2019, WGN9 News reported the case of a woman being infected with flesh-eating bacteria after a quick swim at Norfolk’s Ocean View beach in Virginia the week before.1
She started feeling ill the very next day, and noticed symptoms of infection in her leg. It spread rapidly, and within a couple of days, she could no longer walk. Treating doctors suspect the bacterium made its way into her body via a small cut. She’s currently recovering from leg surgery. Another Florida woman who contracted the infection is also on the path to recovery.2
Two other recent cases did not end as well. A man crabbing at Magnolia Beach in Texas, and another who went for a swim in the Gulf, contracted infections that led to their deaths.3
“Health officials urge swimmers to avoid swallowing water and taking a dip after a heavy rainfall. Don’t swim if you are ill or have a weakened immune system and swim away from fishing piers, pipes, drains and water flowing from storm drains onto a beach … Once you get out of the water, health officials say you should shower with soap,” WGN9 reports.4
What WGN9 does not cover is evidence suggesting flesh-eating bacteria are ubiquitous in the ocean and on human skin after swimming in saltwater, and that the difference between those who come into contact with the bacteria and remain unaffected and those in whom the bacterium unleashes a dangerous infection is strongly related to their iron levels.
Another sad note is that this woman may have undergone needless surgery as this infection, and similar diabetic leg infections, are relatively easily treated in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.5,6
These types of infections typically require higher pressures with a hard-shell chamber7 and 100% pure oxygen with greater than two atmospheres of pressure — a treatment approved8 by the FDA for necrotizing infections, certain other wounds and gangrene. A soft-shell chamber would not likely be an effective treatment.
Flesh-eating disease (necrotizing fasciitis) can be caused by several different organisms, although group A Streptococcus are responsible for a majority of cases. Group A Strep is also responsible for strep throat, rheumatic fever and scarlet fever.9
Death is typically related to sepsis and subsequent organ failure. Due to its rapid spread, it’s important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include:10
- Redness and/or swelling that rapidly spreads
- Severe pain in the area and beyond (pain is typically described as worse than would be expected by the look of the wound)
In particular, be on the lookout for skin discoloration such as black spots, ulcers or blisters on the skin, and/or oozing pus. Dizziness, fatigue, nausea and diarrhea are symptoms associated with heightened infection.
According to the CDC’s active bacterial core surveillance system, which tracks necrotizing fasciitis cases caused by group A Strep, the U.S. has averaged between 700 and 1,200 such cases per year since 2010.11
Flesh-eating Vibrio infections are also common
Now, in cases where the flesh-eating disease is contracted through contact with seawater, the culprit is typically the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a particularly dangerous Vibrio species that occurs naturally in warm seawater.12 For this reason, it’s not a good idea to go swimming if you have open cuts, sores or fresh tattoos.13
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,14 the Vibrios species prefer salty water above 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celcius). In fact, 93% of the time, the water temperature and salinity can correctly identify V. vulnificus hotspots. Iron- and nitrogen-rich dust settling in seawater has also been shown to fuel the bacteria’s growth.15
According to the CDC, Vibrio infection (by all species) causes 80,000 illnesses and kills 100 people in the U.S. each year.16 Aside from seawater exposure, raw or undercooked seafood are other common routes of exposure.
Liver disease increases risk of V. vulnificus infection
Importantly, having liver disease dramatically increases your risk of V. vulnificus infection. CDC findings reveal people with liver disease are a whopping 80 times more likely to contract V. vulnificus infection from raw oysters than those without liver problems, and 200 times more likely to die from it.17
Having diabetes, HIV, thalassemia (an inherited blood disorder that I actually have, which is associated with both anemia18 and iron overload19) or cancer also raises your risk of Vibrio infection, as does taking antacids.20 These risk factors are worth considering when swimming in the ocean as well.
Preliminary, as-yet unpublished research presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology and reported by Medicine Net21 revealed all participants had the Vibrio genus of bacteria on their skin after swimming in the ocean and then air drying.
Vibrio was also found to have “specific affinity for attachment to human skin,” Medicine Net reports,22 as the presence of Vibrio on the swimmers’ skin was tenfold greater than in water samples.
Iron overload increases your vulnerability to V. vulnificus
I’ve mentioned iron a couple of times already, and iron may actually be a key factor in these life-threatening Vibrio infections. Not only does iron-rich water dramatically boost the growth of V. vulnificus, having excess iron in your blood may also predispose you to flesh-eating disease when exposed to the bacteria.23
In 2015, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) published an article on this important finding, noting that:24
“People with a weakened immune system, chronic liver disease or iron overload disease are most at risk for severe illness. Vibrio vulnificus infections in high-risk individuals are fatal 50 percent of the time. Now, researchers at UCLA have figured out why those with iron overload disease are so vulnerable.
People with the common genetic iron overload disease called hereditary hemochromatosis have a deficiency of the iron-regulating hormone hepcidin and thus develop excess iron in their blood and tissue, providing prime growth conditions for Vibrio vulnificus.
The study25 also found that minihepcidin, a medicinal form of the hormone hepcidin that lowers iron levels in blood, could cure the infection by restricting bacterial growth … [R]esearchers compared the fatality of Vibrio vulnificus infection in healthy mice with mice that lacked hepcidin, modeling human hereditary hemochromatosis.
The results showed that the infection was much more lethal in hepcidin-deficient mice because they could not decrease iron levels in the blood in response to infection, a process mediated by hepcidin in healthy mice.
Giving minihepcidin to susceptible hepcidin-deficient mice to lower the amount of iron in the blood prevented infection if the hormone was given before the Vibrio vulnificus was introduced. Additionally, mice given minihepcidin three hours after the bacterium was introduced were cured of any infection.”
The links between iron levels and liver health
Hemochromatosis, a hereditary disorder that causes your body to accumulate damaging levels of iron, affects 1 in 300 to 500 Caucasians.26 However, you don’t have to have a genetic disorder to have high iron.
In fact, most all adult men and non-menstruating women have damaging levels of iron, as the primary way to lower your iron level is through blood loss. Even women with hemochromatosis are relatively protected in their youth thanks to regular blood loss through menses.27 The primary therapy for hemochromatosis, and the easiest way to normalize your iron level if it’s high, is by regularly donating blood.28
Your liver is the primary organ responsible for regulating your iron level. Provided your liver is healthy, your ferritin level is likely to be healthy as well. As explained in a 2013 paper:29
“Iron is an essential nutrient that is tightly regulated. A principal function of the liver is the regulation of iron homeostasis. The liver senses changes in systemic iron requirements and can regulate iron concentrations in a robust and rapid manner.
The last 10 years have led to the discovery of several regulatory mechanisms in the liver which control the production of iron regulatory genes, storage capacity, and iron mobilization. Dysregulation of these functions leads to an imbalance of iron, which is the primary causes of iron-related disorders …
During conditions of excess iron, the liver increases iron storage and protects other tissues, namely the heart and pancreas from iron-induced cellular damage.
However, a chronic increase in liver iron stores results in excess reactive oxygen species production and liver injury. Excess liver iron is one of the major mechanisms leading to increased steatohepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma.”
Crucial nutrients for liver health
Two nutrients crucial for liver health and function are methionine — a sulfur containing amino acid30 — and choline. Research31 shows a methionine and choline deficient diet causes rapid onset and progression of the clinical pathologies associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in rodents, and other researchers have suggested choline may be an essential nutrient for patients with liver cirrhosis.32
Researchers have also shown that iron overload triggers inflammation and necrosis of the liver in animals with methionine/choline‐deficiency induced NAFLD.33
According to Chris Masterjohn, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional science, choline deficiency actually appears to be a far more significant trigger of NAFLD than excess fructose and, in his view, the rise in NAFLD is largely the result of shunning liver and egg yolks. Masterjohn explains:34
“We now know that choline is necessary to produce a phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine (PC) … a critical component of the very low density lipoprotein particle, which we need to make in order to export fats from our livers.
The amino acid methionine can act as a precursor to choline and can also be used to convert a different phospholipid called phosphatidylethanolamine directly into PC. Thus, the combined deficiency of choline and methionine will severely impair our abilities to package up the fats in our livers and to send them out into the bloodstream.”
Best sources of choline and methionine
A single egg can contain anywhere from 113 milligrams35 (mg) to 147 mg36 of choline, or about 25% of your daily requirement, making it one of the best choline sources in the American diet.37 Only grass fed beef liver beats it, with 430 mg of choline per 100-gram serving.38 As noted in the Fatty Liver Diet Guide:39
“Eggs rank very high on the list of foods that are high in either lecithin, which converts to choline, or in choline itself. Note that this is the egg yolks only, not egg whites, which only have traces of this micronutrient.
Choline is essential in the production of phosphatidylcholine, a fat molecule called a phospholipid. But wait! Isn’t all fat bad? No — especially if it is essential to overall health and in particular, liver health. Simply put — if you don’t have enough choline, your liver can’t move out fat. It instead begins to collect within your liver, creating fatty liver.”
This is one of the reasons I eat about six eggs a day — typically raw in my two smoothies. This gives me about 900 mg of dietary phosphatidyl choline. Other healthy choline sources include:40
- Wild-caught Alaskan salmon41
- Krill oil — One 2011 study42 found 69 choline-containing phospholipids in krill oil, including 60 phosphatidylcholine substances, which helps protect against liver disease (including hepatitis and cirrhosis in alcoholics), reduce digestive tract inflammation and lessen symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
- Organic pastured chicken
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus
- Shiitake mushrooms
As for methionine, this amino acid is found in animal protein such as fish, poultry, pork and beef. High amounts are also found in Swiss cheese and provolone.43 When it comes to beef, eating “nose-to-tail,” opposed to steak exclusively, is the best way to optimize your methionine intake, as this will provide you with a healthy methionine to glycine ratio.
How to minimize your risk of flesh-eating disease
To try to tie this all together, here’s a quick summary of the key points and take-home messages presented in this article:
• Chronic liver disease raises your risk of V. vulnificus infection. Optimizing your methionine and choline intake will help prevent liver disease, thus lowering your susceptibility to flesh-eating disease as well. Pastured eggs are the best source of choline, while animal protein of all types will provide varying amounts of methionine.44
Addressing insulin resistance — which may affect as many as 8 in 10 Americans45,46 — is another important strategy to protect your liver health and avoid fatty liver disease.47
• Having a healthy liver is key for iron homeostasis in your body.
• Excess iron — which affects most men and menopausal women — significantly raises your risk of flesh-eating disease when exposed to V. vulnificus, either from eating raw/undercooked seafood or swimming in seawater with an open cut or scrape, allowing the bacteria entry into your body.
Normalizing your iron may thus be an important way of preventing this life-threatening infection. To do that, simply donate blood a few times a year. If your ferritin level is over 200 ng/ml, a more aggressive phlebotomy schedule is recommended.
Ideally, your serum ferritin should be somewhere between 20 and 80 ng/ml. As a general rule, somewhere between 40 and 60 ng/ml is the sweet spot for adult men and non-menstruating women.
• V. vulnificus is ubiquitous in seawater, and risk of infection rises along with water temperatures, as warm water spurs growth, and the bacteria adheres well to skin. To limit your risk, avoid swimming if you have open cuts or scrapes on your body, and avoid taking water into your mouth.
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- 2, 3 YouTube NBC Today July 18, 2019
- 5 Mayo Clinic Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
- 6 Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2009 Oct;7(8):1015-26
- 7 National Hyperbaric Treatment Center
- 8 Advanced Hyperbaric Recovery
- 9, 10 CDC.gov Necrotizing fasciitis
- 11 CDC.gov Necrotizing fasciitis, CDC tracks necrotizing fasciitis caused by Group A Strep
- 12 Florida Health Vibrio vulnificus
- 13 Forbes June 3, 2017
- 14 Coastalscience.noaa.gov Chesapeake Bay Vibrio Pathogen Forecast
- 15 Kiiitv.com July 25, 2017
- 16 CDC.gov Vibrio species causing vibriosis
- 17 CDC.gov MMWR June 4, 1993; 42(21): 405-407
- 18 Mayo Clinic Thalassemia
- 19 Hematology 2017(1): 265–271
- 20 CDC.gov Vibrio species causing vibriosis, Could you get sick?
- 21, 22 Medicinenet.com June 22, 2019
- 23, 25 Cell Host & Microbe January 14, 2015; 17(1): 47-57
- 24 UCLA January 14, 2015
- 26, 27 Stat Pearls, Hemachromatosis Last update June 4, 2019
- 28 Bloodjournal.org, How I treat hemochromatosis by Adams and Barton, July 19, 2019 (PDF)
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- 30 Nutrition & Metabolism 2007; 4: 24
- 31 Laboratory Animal Research 2017 Jun; 33(2): 157–164
- 32 Gastroenterology 1989; 97: 1514-1520 (PDF)
- 33 Liver International September 18, 2006; 26(10)
- 34 Chrismasterjohnphd.com November 23, 2010
- 35 Nutrition Data, Hardboiled egg
- 36 USDA Nutrient Database Hardboiled egg
- 37 Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov; 67(11):615-623
- 38 USDA Database for Choline January 2008
- 39 Fatty Liver Diet Guide
- 40 National Institutes of Health, Choline Fact Sheet
- 41 National Academy of Sciences 2016, DRI Dietary Reference Intakes
- 42 Lipids. 2011 Jan; 46(1):25–36
- 43, 44 USDA Food Composition Database, Methionine
- 45 The Fat Emperor May 10, 2015
- 46 IDM Program, Kraft Patterns
- 47 Curr Pharm Des. 2010 Jun;16(17):1941-51