Rust Brain: The Dangers Of Excess Iron And Hemochromatosis
Although low iron can lead to anemia, excess iron is equally important as a factor that can affect virtually every aspect of health. The most common cause of excess iron is a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis, which can affect people at any age. It has been diagnosed in newborns up to the very elderly. Pregnant women with hemochromatosis may lose developing children who may have inherited the disease. The disease is most frequently diagnosed in males over 50 since the iron deposition in the tissues accumulates slowly, but may occur in much younger men who take iron supplements or who eat large amounts of red meat.
Hemochromatosis causes the absorption of iron to be increased. Two common genetic SNPs for this exist and the high prevalence of individuals with two copies makes this the most common genetic disease in many countries. With an incidence of 1 in 200 live births, hemochromatosis affects 1.5 million people in the United States. Approximately, 10-12.5% of the population are carriers for the most common mutations. Carriers have much higher iron levels than people without the mutations. Men are many times more affected than women. Presumably, individuals with limited dietary sources of iron in the past were at a selective evolutionary advantage so that this mutation allowed them to thrive on an iron deficient diet. Even individuals with a single copy of one of the hemochromatosis genes may develop the disease if they have a very high iron intake from the diet.