4 Fab Tips to Manage Hemochromatosis

hemochromatosis Sep 09, 2020

What is hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis describes a condition where iron and ferritin levels are too high in the body. With hemochromatosis, too much iron gets absorbed from the food we eat, which elevates iron to dangerously high levels. Chronic elevation of iron can have severe consequences, which include:

  1. Diabetes.
    • When your iron stores are too high, your body becomes inflamed and stops responding to insulin as effectively.  
  2. Heart problems.
    • Excessive amounts of iron can affect the hearts' ability to circulate blood around the body.
  3. Liver disease
    • Elevated iron stores increase the risk of liver cirrhosis (scarring) and cancer.


What causes hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition associated with an HFE gene mutation. Put simply, the mutation causes excessive amounts of iron absorption. If you inherit two abnormal genes, you may develop hemochromatosis. However, if you only inherit one abnormal gene, you are unlikely to develop hemochromatosis.

The symptoms of hemochromatosis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Reproductive issues, like erectile dysfunction
  • Clouded memory
  • Skin colour changes

Who is at risk?

  1. Men, over the age of forty. Hemochromatosis is more common in males, due to red meat and alcohol consumption.  
  2. Post-menopausal women, over the age of sixty.  Women are less likely to lose iron through menstruation and pregnancy, thus are at an increased risk of hemochromatosis.


How do I manage hemochromatosis?

Make sure you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods in your diet. This includes fruits, vegetables, cereals, dairy products and meat/meat alternatives. Think, the more colour, the better.

Be mindful about vitamin C. Large amounts of vitamin C can increase iron absorption. The vitamin C contained in fruits and vegetables will not significantly impact on your iron levels (so don't stress about that!). However, vitamin C supplements should be avoided, except when directed by your doctor. 

Avoid taking iron supplements or iron-fortified foods. Be mindful of energy drinks, energy bars and multivitamins which may contain traces of iron.

It's essential to be mindful about alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking can affect the body's iron stores and scar the liver.


When to see a health professional

If you have a family member with the condition, or you start to develop symptoms of hemochromatosis, organise an appointment with your GP. Your doctor will perform a genetic test, to determine the presence of the hemochromatosis gene. A blood test will also be completed to determine iron stores in the blood.

If you've been diagnosed with hemochromatosis, you'll need to have some blood removed. The timing and amount of blood taken will be determined by your GP. 


Book a dietetic consult at CQ Nutrition if you're concerned about nutrition and hemochromatosis. We are here to provide you with tailored advice and strategies to manage appropriate iron levels and reduce the risk of adverse complications.

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac



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