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Iron Overload Disorders

Iron is an essential micronutrient. However, free iron rapidly catalyzes the generation of damaging free radicals and subsequent oxidant stress. In fact, excess iron can damage cells & tissues, and iron overload is associated with increased risk of cancer and heart disease along with neurological, endocrine, and musculoskeletal disorders (Jellinger 1992; Kew 2009; Shima 1997; Siddique 2012; Huang 2003).

Iron is unusual among dietary nutrients in that both iron deficiency and iron excess are relatively common health concerns; however, little-understood or recognized is that the difference between iron deficiency or overload is often a question of a scant few milligrams of iron (Heli 2011; Cogswell 2009; Fleming 2001).

Conditions that predispose to accumulation of excess iron can be hereditary (e.g., hemochromatosis) or acquired (e.g., excess iron ingestion, chronic liver disease). Poorly appreciated by mainstream medicine is the fact thatiron has a tendency to accumulate within cells during the aging process (Killilea 2003; Brittenham 2008), further exacerbating the detrimental impact of aging in our body.

Iron overload is not typically detected until 40 - 60 years of age (Borgaonkar 2003). However, recent advances in the understanding of the genetic basis of hereditary iron overload disorders, availability of blood markers, and development of non-invasive techniques to assess tissue iron stores have facilitated early detection and faster treatment of iron overload disorders (Fischer 2009; Muñoz 2011; Fleming 2012; Santos 2012).

This protocol will present an overview of iron overload disorders (acquired and hereditary), and will highlight state of the art methods in diagnosing and treating excess iron stores. Additionally, advances in dietary approaches to managing iron intake will be reviewed.