Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note, where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health.
Quick side note: If you haven’t checked out my new podcast “The Common Sense MD”, I would really appreciate you checking it out. I think common sense is so important in practicing medicine. Deciphering complex things in ways that more people will understand, and thus more likely to do. Making things easier, so you can take control of your health is the goal.
There is an art to medicine, as well as a science to medicine. This is so important, but often gets forgotten.
This week in the Note, we’re going to talk about something that’s interesting to me. And that’s the importance of iron levels.
For years, I’ve run these comprehensive lab tests on my patients. Right now this comprehensive lab panel is the Cleveland Heart Panel. It gives us so much information on your metabolism, lipid profile and the size of the particles. It gives me a breakdown of patients’ fatty acids, vitamin levels, hormones, adrenals, insulin resistance, liver, kidney, and genetic tests.
I get a pretty good idea of how healthy you are when looking at this Cleveland Heart Panel.
One thing that is important that many don’t look at is the Ferritin level. I’ve been studying this a lot lately.
With labs, there is usually a large range of values. And as we talk a lot about here, you don’t want normal, you want optimal.
A serum ferritin level is the best test for iron levels. If I am not your doctor, make sure your doctor checks a ferritin level. It’s a really important thing to know.
It can be too low, or it can be too high.
Low iron levels usually means anemia, but high iron levels are also a very serious threat to your health. And it’s a slow threat because you probably won’t know it unless you check your ferritin levels.
High iron levels can permanently damage organs, tissues, and joints. It can increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, and can lead to premature death.
Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and releases it when your body needs it. It’s the best test for iron overload.
Women excrete iron monthly through their menstrual cycles. Men don’t, which may be a reason why women live longer than men. Women get anemic more often, but that can be easily treated with a vitamin that has iron in it.
There’s a point where you probably don’t want iron in your vitamins. Most men should not have iron in their vitamins, which I’ll talk more on later in the Note.
Iron is needed for growth. In a way it’s a growth promoter. Obese people have more iron than non- obese people. This means that iron may be a factor in obesity.
As a matter of fact, increased ferritin levels can predict future weight gain.
More growth can lead to cancer, as well as obesity.
We’ve known increased ferritin levels can also lead to more diabetes and coronary artery disease.
Increased iron can lead to increases in oxidized LDL, the bad cholesterol that if it’s oxidized it can stick to your arteries, cause inflammation, thereby can cause heart attacks.
What’s interesting is that people who regularly donate blood have less heart attacks.
We’ve linked red meat to increased rates of colon cancer, and it’s probably because of excess iron. We also know that it can cause osteoporosis.
If you do have iron overload, you can have symptoms:
- Joint pain (most common)
- Skin can turn bronze (this is actually diabetes)
- Arrhythmias and palpitations
- You can be tired because of too much iron
- Abdomen pain
When we replace hormones with testosterone, it can increase your red blood cell count. So you have to monitor that. This is why some of my patients have to donate blood occasionally to lower those levels.
Other things you can do if you have high iron levels:
- Don’t cook in iron pots.
- Don’t eat cereal or white bread which is fortified with iron (you shouldn’t eat them anyway).
- Look at your vitamins and make sure they don’t have iron in them.
- Eat less red meats and organ meats.
I’m a firm believer in Vitamin C. But if you have too much iron in your blood, then you need to decrease Vitamin C, as Vitamin C increases iron absorption.
Also, if you have to supplement with iron, you will want to take Vitamin C an hour before you take your iron supplement.
Ways you can decrease iron levels:
- Donate blood
- Take Curcumin. Curcumin helps bind the iron to get rid of it.
- Drink black tea if you have increased iron levels.
- Take Calcium.
- Red wine will help if your iron levels are too high.
- Coffee will also help.
- Exercise. You can actually sweat iron out (you would have to sweat a lot though).
Very importantly, take a baby aspirin everyday. We already know this protects your heart. We always thought that it does this because it thins your blood, which it does, but it also may cause low level bleeding in your intestines that will enable you to lower your iron levels.
This is possibly why it may decrease cancer rates in the colon.
I usually recommend that most men take a baby aspirin at the age of 40, and most women at the age of 50 to prevent heart disease. I’ve been doing it myself for years and years.
Normal is under 300 for men and under 200 for women. This is probably not ideal, however.
Ideal is more like 50-100.
There are lots of other reasons not to want your ferritin level to be too low. When it’s below 50, your thyroid then may not work as well.
With lab levels, you are looking for ideal.
You don’t want it too high, and you don’t want it too low.
Get your levels checked! Definitely consider getting a Cleveland Heart Panel.