How Much Iron is Too Much?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Iron is necessary throughout life for stimulating the production of hemoglobin, the red blood cell pigment that carries oxygen to our cells. However, research indicates that iron overload, how much iron is too muchor hemachromatosis, can actually increase your risk for cardiovascular problems.

Hemachromatosis is an acquired or hereditary defect of iron metabolism in which excess iron is deposited in tissues and not available for oxygen transport. It’s estimated that 10 percent of Americans carry the gene for hereditary hemochomatosis.

Iron is stored in muscles and other tissues, and unless it is lost through menstruation or donating blood, toxic levels can accumulate in your system over the years. One study found that those with excessive levels of ferritin were more than twice as likely to have heart attacks, and that every one percent increase in ferritin translated into a four percent increase in heart attack risk.

Excessive levels of ferritin are one reason why postmenopausal women are at greater risk for heart attack than women who are still menstruating. Postmenopausal women lose the protection of regular menstrual iron reduction, and their levels of ferritin have been found to rise steadily after menopause.

To find out if your iron levels are healthy, ask your doctor to perform a special iron test called serum ferritin. 

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