Iron Overload

iron toxicity

Iron is a vital mineral in the human body. Iron overload, however, is deadly. Most physicians believe it is rare and mainly hereditary. In fact, it is far more common and more dangerous than many people imagine.

Conditions in which iron can be a factor include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Others include chronic infections, hair loss, hypothyroidism, hyperactive behavior, violence and many more conditions.


Iron has three major roles in the body:

1. It helps transport oxygen to the cells from the lungs. Hemoglobin is the main iron-bearing substance in the body. It carries oxygen to all the body cells. Any problems in this system and a person becomes very tired and will die if it is not corrected. This is the single most critical function of iron in our bodies.

2. Iron is needed for energy production in every cell. Energy production requires the conversion of sugars, fats and proteins into adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the form that the body uses for all its activities and healing as well. Iron, as well as copper, are required for energy production. Low energy will result in cancer eventually in every person with iron problems.

3. Catalase Production. Catalase is an enzyme that travels around the body and picks up free oxygen atoms called free radicals. This protects the body from free radical damage, a very important function.

4. Other Roles. Iron is also involved in the sense of direction. Human beings and the animals, especially birds, use the magnetic properties of iron, manganese and other magnetic elements to navigate the globe with amazing accuracy. Small deposits of these ferrous metals in the brain are used like compasses to direct the creature on its way.


Recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere indicate that a person may have iron overload without having either the hemochomatosis gene or other obvious reasons for the problem such as multiple blood transfusions or other obvious exposure.

In another study of heart disease, 13% of those screened had indicators of iron overload. This cannot be explained by heredity.


Let us say a few words about iron deficiency, a much more well-known problem. This is a severe problem in certain parts of the world, especially Africa where malaria and other parasitic diseases cause blood destruction and other problems.

In America, it is found most often in poor children, those with chronic illnesses or bleeding that can deplete iron rapidly, in some menstruating women and in strict vegetarians.

In many cases of iron deficiency anemia, as it is called, the cause is not really poor iron levels. It is copper toxicity, and or biounavailable iron. This is a most confusing aspect of "iron deficient anemia". In fact, many physicians prescribe iron to patients who do not need it, including most menstruating women who have copper toxicity and copper biounavailability causing their anemia. This wastes their time and leads to worsening iron overload problems in these young women.

We hope that this article will bring to the attention of physicians the need to be more careful before prescribing iron pills to their patients, including those who appear to have an iron-deficiency anemia.


There is some evidence that the average American diet includes excess iron for men but perhaps not enough for menstruating women. We tend to disagree with this, as many women today have iron toxicity to some degree, as revealed on hair mineral analyses.

Higher iron foods include liver, kidneys, all red meats, chicken, turkey, eggs, clams, oysters, other seafood, many fish, kelp, blackstrap molasses, brewer's and torula yeast, bone meal, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dark green vegetables, and soybeans. Iron is also added to most white flour products, and it is found in some vitamin pills and other vitamin/mineral preparations.


1. White Flour Products. The most important single source of excess iron is refined wheat flour products. The product is labeled as wheat flour, but it means refined white flour. Only whole wheat flour really is the genuine article.

In the 1920s, it was found that animals fed a diet of white flour developed serious neurological diseases and then died. Instead of banning this product, the US Food and Drug Administration declared that most white flour products must be "enriched" with iron and a few vitamins to "correct" the problem. Unfortunately, the enrichment has created an even worse situation in many cases that results in diabetes, heart disease and cancer for millions of people.

First, "enrichment" enhances the iron content far more than is healthful. Secondly, it is "enriched" with a very poorly used and toxic form of iron. Third, the food is stripped of all its trace minerals.

Wheat today is very high in glutamine, an inflammatory amino acid, and often contains other irritating chemicals such as chlorine and bromine used as bleaching agents. It is a thoroughly toxic brew, found even in some "health foods".

Fourth, the body requires minerals and will absorb whatever is available. The white flour is stripped of its trace elements, creating a nutritional deficiency condition. The iron is plentiful and thus the body absorbs more than it would if there were a natural balance of minerals in the flour.

Fifth, iron is selectively absorbed by the body. This is a vital survival mechanism because of the great importance of iron for oxygen transport in the blood. We hope this explains the deadly combination of problems with bleached, refined white flour, mistakenly labeled often as "wheat flour".

2. Vitamin Supplements And Tonics With Iron. Doctors and a few health food advocates routinely prescribe iron and iron-containing potions, even when they are not indicated medically. Some prescription and a number of over-the-counter drugs also contain iron.

Prenatal vitamins are the one type of vitamin that should contain plenty of iron. Here also, however, it is usually a form of iron that is poorly utilized and toxic. Chelated iron is better than most forms found in these products.


3. Red Meat And, To A Limited Degree, All Dark-colored Foods. Red meats are excellent sources of iron. However, they can be overdone. Beef is the number one culprit here.

Vegetables contain less iron and less protein. This greatly reduces the availability of iron from vegetables. Lower iron intake is an important reason why some advocate a vegetarian diet.

Unfortunately, these diets tend to be deficient in other nutrients and this eventually leads to problems that are even worse than iron toxicity. For this reason we do not recommend vegetarian diets for more than a few weeks, for example for cancer patients.

4. Tobacco can be high in iron depending on the soil on which it is grown. Also alcohol intake of any amount tends to worsen iron overload difficulties because alcohol depletes zinc, an important iron antagonist.

5. Pollution. Iron contamination of the air, water and soil is quite common, especially in iron-producing areas of the nation such as the Midwestern US and parts of California, Arizona and others as well. Industrial iron contamination may also occur anywhere.

Iron overload in shellfish and even other foods often contributes to "food poisoning". Vegetables grown on iron-rich or iron-contaminated soils and may also contain high levels of iron. Water supplies, especially if the water is slightly yellow or orange, are a common source of excess inorganic iron. Wells should always be tested for iron contamination.

6. Congenital Iron Toxicity (excessive iron present at birth). Most children today are born with some excess iron. They may still be anemic because their iron is not all bioavailable (see the section on biounavailability).

Large amounts of white flour, red meats and vitamins with iron consumed by young women can contaminate their bodies with iron. Some is passed on through the placenta to their children, causing chronic infections, developmental delays and behavior and learning disorders among other children's conditions.


1. Iron Replaces Other Vital Minerals Causing Enzyme Dysfunction. Understanding this requires knowledge of the concept of preferred minerals. It basically states that all enzymes in the body have ideally a certain mineral in each binding site that allows the enzyme to function most efficiently.

If, however, the preferred mineral is not available, the enzyme will accept a less preferred mineral in its place to allow the enzyme to function at all.

Iron replaces other vital minerals such as zinc, copper manganese, and many others in hundreds or even thousands of enzyme binding sites. This cause the enzymes to malfunction and leads to many physical and emotional symptoms.

The problem of mineral replacement is made worse by the fact that all minerals compete for absorption. Iron enjoys a selective advantage. That is, it is selectively absorbed because of its essential role in oxygen transfer. This mechanism of iron absorption definitely works against a person who is eating white flour, lots of red meat, and perhaps smokes or drinks a little alcohol, for example. Adding orange juice at breakfast makes it worse, because vitamin C enhances iron absorption greatly.

The person becomes greatly saturated with iron at the expense of other trace elements that are already deficient in the food supply.

2. Inflammation. When iron replaces other elements in the body, in addition to enzyme malfunction, the next most important problem it causes is inflammation.

This occurs because iron attracts oxygen directly to it. Then, when it contacts delicate body tissues, the singlet oxygen molecules, termed free radicals, detach and destroy body tissues. This mechanism is called oxidant damage or free radical damage, a potent cause of inflammation.

Oxidant damage contributes to many other problems as well. These include insufficient repair of the organs and tissues to meet the needs of the body. This, in turn, can cause every disorder imaginable from heart disease to cancer to hyperactive behavior.

Aging is though to be caused by oxidant damage and it may be a direct effect of iron toxicity. This is rarely diagnosed, however, unless one happens to undergo special blood tests or a liver biopsy for iron.

3. Toxic Iron Oxide. Iron oxide is formed when iron combines with several atoms of oxygen at once. It is biologically useless and quite toxic as well

4. Bacterial Growth Stimulant. Due to its properties as an excellent oxygen transporter, iron tends to stimulate the growth of common bacteria. This is a significant cause for chronic infections in our population.

5. Cellular Poison (Cancer). Imbalances related to iron reduce the output of cellular energy in the body. This leads directly to cancer, which is basically a parasite on the human body. It uses an inferior energy generating system based on direct conversion of sugar to energy without the many intermediary steps associated with the Krebs and glycolysis cycles.


We have discussed the major types of damage caused by iron excess. Each of these mechanisms affects all the organs and tissues of the body. Thus the damage done by iron and other toxic metals with similar properties is very complex and comprehensive. However, some organs and tissues are damaged more extensively than others by iron.

For example, all organs and tissues are affected by generalized inflammation. The manifestation will vary, however, depending on the function or functions of the particular organ or tissue and upon its resonance or its generalized response to the presence of excessive iron.

Organs that may be most affected by iron are the pancreas, liver, kidneys, brain, heart, arteries, and joints. This is not so much because the mineral deposits there. In fact, more iron is in the liver than elsewhere, but so are many other minerals deposited there. It is more about the resonance or response of the organ to the energy or structure, more properly, of the iron molecule or combinations that iron forms with oxygen and other elements.

The liver and iron. The liver can be saturated with iron, and in Chinese medicine the liver is the seat of iron. It is associated with an attitude of anger and rage. Iron also accumulates in the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with anger and rage.

However, it can accumulate everywhere in the brain and is certainly one cause of dementia related to aging, since iron accumulates with age, as a general rule. As it does so, it replaces other vital minerals such as chromium, molybdenum, selenium, germanium and others in vital organs, glands and tissues.


Physical Ailments Associated With Iron Poisoning.

1. Diabetes. This is known in the medical literature and is sometimes referred to as bronze diabetes. However, we feel that researchers will learn that more than this is due to iron overload, in subtle ways. Iron replaces many minerals that can give rise to symptoms of diabetes.

2. Cancer. This is another subtle situation in which researchers will find, we believe, that many cases of cancer are indirectly caused by or related to iron overload from non-hereditary causes.

3. Nervous System Diseases. These may include Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and behavioral abnormalities, including violence, anti-social behavior, ADHD, autistic characteristics and other. A bad temper is often related to iron toxicity, as mentioned earlier.

4. Hypertension And All Cardiac Conditions. Iron has an ability to enhance the hardness of the arteries, as does cadmium. So the blood pressure rises, without any obvious cause. Arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, cardiac stenosis, cardiomyopathy and others are included in the list of cardiac difficulties that are known to occur with hemosiderosis and hemochromatosis and can occur with acquired iron overload as well.

5. Kidney Problems of Many Types. Iron can accumulate here, causing hypertension, renal failure and other difficulties.

6. Inflammatory Symptoms. These include a wide range of disorders and syndromes, ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and Sjogren's syndrome to lupus, myelination diseases such as multiple sclerosis and others.

7. It may also include milder, minor forms of inflammation such as random aches and pains, premenstrual syndrome, headache syndromes and so many other inflammatory conditions that may occur in children and adults.


Hair tissue mineral analysis is helpful to identify an iron imbalance in most cases, but one must not just use the hair iron level. Here are the main indicators:

1. HAIR TISSUE IRON GREATER THAN ABOUT 2 MG%. this indicator applies mainly to an initial hair mineral test, though not necessarily. On a retest, during a nutritional balancing program, the hair iron may elevate as the body eliminates excess iron through the hair, so the indicator is less reliable on retests.

2. IRON IN THE POOR ELIMINATOR RANGE. This is a hair tissue iron level of less than about 1.2 mg%. It indicates the body is having difficulty eliminating iron.

3. ELEVATED 'AMIGOS', SUCH AS MANGANESE OR ALUMINUM, IN MOST CASES. When aluminum is above about 1.2 mg% or manganese is greater than about 0.04 mg% in the hair tissue, iron toxicity with biounavailable iron is almost always present to some degree.

4. OTHER 'AMIGOS' IN THE POOR ELIMINATOR RANGE. This means that aluminum or manganese, usually, are very low in the hair. The poor eliminator range for aluminum is when it is less than 0.65 mg% and for manganese when it is less than about 0.015 mg%.

Ideal Hair Iron Levels. The ideal iron level in the hair should probably be about 1.8-2 mg% or 20 parts per million in an unwashed hair sample. This fact is important because the suggested normal value varies from lab to lab. Often people just read the level as low, high or normal. It is important to actually review the level, not just whether it seems low, normal or high.


This term means that iron is present somewhere in the body but is unable to be utilized properly. Iron is called biounavailable:

1) If it cannot be bound properly. Iron must be bound to a protein molecule such as ferritin, metallothionein or other, if it is to be transported properly throughout the body. If it is not bound correctly, it builds up in the tissues and cannot be utilized in many chemical reactions.

2) If it is in a valence that cannot be used. For example, iron can have a valence of +2, +3, or under rare circumstances, +4. It must be in the correct one to be used properly. Copper, manganese and other minerals are involved in the conversion of iron, for example from the ferrous, or +2 form to the ferric or +3.

3) In certain molecules such as an oxide.

4) Other complex biochemical reasons. For example, iron may be so bound up with other protein carriers that it cannot be freed up for utilization in other areas.

5) Iron may be biounavailable if it cannot be absorbed. This occurs with some malabsorption syndromes that affect the upper intestinal area where iron is mainly absorbed. For example, if one eats a lot of manganese in a food or even a vitamin pill, it will inhibit the absorption of iron to some degree. This makes the iron less bioavailable that is in the food or drink. Eating iron with protein or vitamin C, for example, increases its bioavailability by increasing its rate of absorption.

For example, eating just one food at a meal, or taking a digestive enzyme, can greatly enhance the absorption of iron and any other substance by reducing competition for the minerals or enhancing digestive capacity to, for instance, break down the fiber in meat or vegetables. Overeating can greatly reduce iron bioavailability by overwhelming the digestive capacity and blocking absorption by overstimulating the absorptive mechanisms.

This is a vital concept to understand. Otherwise the practitioner will be confused, as some patients have signs and/or symptoms of too much iron while at the same time they and others may show signs and/or symptoms of deficiency. Tests for iron such as TIBC, ferritin and the hair analysis may also be totally confused if one does not understand bioavailability.

Biounavailability may cause the iron levels on hair tissue mineral tests and even blood tests to appear low when they are really normal or even high. Please recall this well.


1. N Eng J Med, 1999, Hereditary Hemochromatosis in Adults without Pathogenic Mutations in the Hemochromatosis Gene, Pietrangelo, A. et al., 341:725, September 2.

2. Neurology, 2003, Parkinson's disease risks associated with dietary iron, manganese, and other nutrient intakes, Powers, KM et al., Jun 10;60(11):1761-6.

3. Amer J Clin Nut, 1998, 68:3-4 (calcium used to inhibit iron absorption)

4. Life Extension Foundation, 2000, Disease Prevention and Treatment, Third Ed., pp.317-321.

5. Casdorph, H.R. and Walker, M., Toxic Metal Syndrome, Avery Publishing, 1995.

6. Kutsky, R., Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones, 2nd ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982.



9. J Royal Soc Med. 1988, "Iron added to flour: Is it nutritionally beneficial? Discussion paper", M J Hall, May; 81(5): 280–283.

10. (the new instrument to measure iron overload)




Iron Overload Iron toxicity hair loss iron for hair