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What Is the Connection between Hemochromatosis and Diet?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Hemochromatosis and diet are closely related because the condition represents an excess of iron in the body that is primarily absorbed from food. Carefully controlling the diet is the only effective way of treating hemochromatosis. Iron overload is known to damage many important organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and heart, because the human body has no effective way of purging itself of excess iron. While one milligram of iron per day is considered to be a normal daily requirement, people with hemochromatosis and diet limitations will otherwise accumulate up to four times as much iron per day. Such a condition will also damage the joints over time and adversely affect the pituitary gland which regulates the endocrine system and the secretion of hormones throughout the body.

Treating hemochromatosis first requires defining the two different types of iron that the body can absorb. Iron in food sources comes from either heme or non-heme products. Heme-based iron is usually found in meat, as it is a type of iron that is present in the blood pigment of hemoglobin, and has the chemical formula of C34H32N4O4Fe. Non-heme iron is found in plants and vitamin supplements and tends to be less readily absorbed than the heme iron found in meat.

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Nutritional therapy to balance hemochromatosis and diet also needs to take into account substances that either inhibit the absorption of iron or encourage it. Calcium directly impairs the absorption of iron as well as tannin, which is found in caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, as well as in chocolate. Other sources of tannin include grain and vegetable fiber, eggs, and oxalate compounds prominent in spinach and rhubarb, as well as some additional vegetables and types of nuts. Black tea has been shown to be particularly effective as a type of tea in reducing iron levels.

The two main compounds that increase the absorption of iron in the body are vitamin C and alcohol. Alcohol consumption for hemochromatosis and diet limitations are recommended to be set at no more than 1 ounce (30 grams) per day in men or 7/10th ounce (20 grams) per day in women. Since this is such a small amount already, it is suggested that alcohol consumption and vitamin C supplements should be avoided altogether for anyone with signs of hemochromatosis.

General meal recommendations for hemochromatosis and diet include avoiding all raw fish and shellfish, though cooked varieties are safe, and reducing one's consumption of red meat or any type of meat high in animal fats. Protein substitutes that are suggested include nuts and beans. Foods that are high in sugar also need to be avoided, as it is another compound that can enhance the absorption of iron. While dietary recommendations can be avoided for the consumption of small amounts of risky foods with relative safety in doing so, the real danger to health lies in consuming foods that are high in iron on a regular basis.

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