Haemochromatosis – Causes, Symptoms & Natural Treatment
Haemochromatosis is excess iron accumulated in the body. If left untreated, it will eventually cause damage and failure of the liver, heart, kidneys and other organs.
Haemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in Australia and affects approximately 1 in 200 people (1)
Hemochromatosis is commonly misdiagnosed as symptoms can be related to many other potential conditions. Iron overload can cause many symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, sexual dysfunction and aches and pains. A simple blood test to check for the hemochromatosis gene can be performed.
Causes of Haemochromatosis
- Primary haemochromatosis: genetic disorder causing increased absorption of iron in digestive tract, causing a buildup of iron in the body, especially the liver.
- Secondary haemochromatosis may be due to:
- Other blood-related disorders (e.g. thalassemia, certain anemias)
- Many blood transfusions
- Excessive iron supplementation
- Liver damage
Signs and Symptoms of Haemochromatosis
- Fatigue, lethargy and weakness
- Abdominal pain
- Bronze colouration of skin
- Joint pain
- Loss of body hair
- Poor libido
- Weight loss
Treatment Strategy for Haemochromatosis
Medical treatment is necessary due to the seriousness of the disease – it is usually treated by regular removal of blood
- Reduce iron intake and absorption
- Increase bowel clearance of iron
- Protect liver and other organs from damage
Diet plan guidelines for Haemochromatosis
- Limit dietary iron intake, especially from heme sources (e.g. red meat, liver), raw shellfish and fortified foods
- Emphasise plant-based over animal-based proteins
- Avoid cooking with cast iron cookware
- Avoid vitamin-C rich foods with meals e.g. fruit juice, fruits
- Drink black, green or peppermint tea with meals to reduce iron absorption. Green tea is also a potent iron-chelating agent and antioxidant.
- Soluble fibre with meals (e.g. psyllium, guar gum or pectin) can reduce iron absorption
- Diet should be rich in antioxidants to protect liver and organs from damage: colourful fruits and vegetables, berries, green tea, etc.
- Avoid excessive alcohol to protect liver
Supplements that support Haemochromatosis
- Avoid supplements containing iron
- Calcium with meals: reduces iron absorption by 40%
- Green tea extract: iron-chelating agent and antioxidant; helps remove excess iron from liver
- Vitamin C between meals: potent antioxidant against lipid peroxidation but must be taken away from meals
- Vitamin E – antioxidant
- Selenium – antioxidant
- N-acetyl cysteine – important for synthesis of glutathione, which is often severely depleted in hemochromatosis
Herbal Medicine that supports Haemochromatosis
- Reduce iron absorption – peppermint, green tea, rosemary, lime flowers, vervain (taken with meals)
- Promote bile – barberry, fringe tree, greater celandine, yellow dock
- Liver Protective – St Mary‘s thistle, schisandra, turmeric
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE TREATMENT OF HAEMOCHROMATOSIS
Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition that can manifest at any stage in a person’s life. Keeping an eye on stored iron levels (ferritin) to ensure they do not get too high and having a genetic test for the C282Y and H63D variants is recommended for those with a family history of the disease.
Management of haemochromatosis is done initially through blood donations and then through diet and lifestyle management. Ensuring adequate antioxidants are included in the diet as well as through supplementation if needed. Excess iron is toxic to the body and causes oxidation. Long term high levels of iron damage the tissues and organs of the body. Diet and lifestyle interventions play a big part in the ongoing management of hemochromatosis.
At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine we support our patients with haemochromatosis by supporting the production of protective nutrients, ensuring the liver detoxification pathways are optimized, containing any intestinal permeability and naturally reducing the absorption of iron.
If you or a family member are suffering from haemochromatosis we would love to hear from you. What ways to you manage your excessive iron levels? How were you diagnosed with haemochromatosis? Do you still have to donate blood to manage your iron levels? Please leave a comment below.