Hemochromatosis is a condition which is characterized by excessive storage of iron within the organs of the body. This is usually attributed to increased absorption of iron from the food that we consume. Excessive iron in the organs can have a toxic effect on the organs and can lead to life threatening situations. There are two forms of hemochromatosis,
- Primary hemochromatosis is caused due to a genetic disorder which runs in families. This condition is present since birth and is associated with absorption of too much iron from the digestive tract. In this case, iron accumulates in the body, especially in the liver.
- Secondary hemochromatosis is an acquired disorder which is associated with blood disorders like thalassemia or anemia which require frequent blood transfusions. In some cases chronic alcoholism is also linked this condition, as it can cause liver damage.
As per epidemiological data, hemochromatosis affects males more than females and is more commonly observed among Caucasians from Western Europe.
Diagnosis Of Hemochromatosis
The diagnosis of the condition is based on a combination of physical examination and blood tests. The common findings of physical examination include swelling of the spleen and liver and change in the color of the skin. Some of the tests that are performed to diagnose the condition include,
- Blood tests namely blood ferritin level, blood iron level and percentage of transferrin saturation show levels higher than normal.
- Additional investigations are performed like Echocardiogram and Electrocardiogram to evaluate the heart functioning and electrical activity in the heart.
- Liver function tests may be performed to assess the functionality of the liver. A liver biopsy may be performed to further confirm the diagnosis.
- Genetic testing may be performed to confirm if the condition is a primary or an acquired disorder.
Diet For Hemochromatosis
A special diet can help in controlling hemochromatosis. Some of the dietary recommendations include,
- Avoid taking iron supplements or vitamin pills which contain iron. Avoid foods that are fortified with iron, especially breakfast cereals.
- Reduce the intake of iron rich foods like green leafy vegetables, sea foods, etc. Avoid cooking food in iron cookware.
- There is certain amount of evidence that consuming tannin rich tea can reduce the absorption of iron from the intestines, especially if consumed immediately after a meal. Further, Vitamin C increases iron absorption and hence Vitamin C supplements should be taken between meals, instead of immediately before or after a meal.
- Don’t drink alcohol as it can further damage the liver. Avoid raw shellfish, as it can lead to bacterial infections that can affect the liver.
Natural Treatment For Hemochromatosis
Unfortunately, there are no natural treatment options to manage hemochromatosis directly however, there are certain natural treatment options to manage the associated symptoms including joint pain, fatigue and weakness.
Herbs like Turmeric, Alfalfa and Dandelion root are considered useful in alleviating some of these symptoms. Homeopathic drugs like Bryonia and Lycopodium are considered useful in alleviating joint pain and improving overall health of the liver.
Some experts recommend the use of phlebotomy, which involves the removal of half a liter of blood each week, till the hemoglobin levels come down to normal levels. This technique however needs to be performed under medical supervision in order to monitor the progress of the patient and avoid excessive bleeding. Subsequently, phlebotomy is performed less frequently, just to maintain optimum iron levels.