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What Causes Too Much Iron in the Human Body?

By Adam Cloe Ph.D./M.D.

Iron is an important element that is needed to make new red blood cells. However, an excess of iron in the body can cause iron to accumulate in various tissues, leading to damage. Iron overload disorders can be caused by certain genetic conditions, excessive iron intake and other conditions. If you are concerned about having too much iron in your body, talk to your doctor.

Hereditary Hemochromatosis

One thing that can cause too much iron to accumulate in your body is a condition known as hereditary hemochromatosis. There are four main kinds of this disorder, depending on what gene is mutated. The most common form of hereditary hemochromatosis, type 1, is due to a mutation in a gene known as HFE 1 that regulates how much iron your body absorbs. The other three kinds of hereditary hemochromatosis are due to mutations in other genes that control iron absorption and storage.

Anemias

Other hereditary disorders can also cause you to develop an iron overload. If you have a hereditary anemia, which is a condition that causes you to not make enough red blood cells, you may also absorb too much iron from your body. Anemias that can cause an iron overload include sideroblastic anemia, thalassemia major and pyruvate kinase deficiency. The excess iron absorption is caused by your body trying to compensate for the lack of red blood cells by absorbing more iron to try to make new red blood cells.

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Blood Transfusions

Receiving repeated blood transfusions can also cause iron to accumulate in your body. Although blood transfusions can be life-saving by providing more red blood cells, these transfusions also are rich in iron. The body has a hard time eliminating the excess iron from your body, and as few as 10 blood transfusions can cause excess iron to accumulate in your body. For this type of iron overload, a phlebotomy or special medications may be needed to treat the iron overload.

Iron Overdose

You can also get too much iron in your body by consuming too many supplements that contain iron. A dose of 200 to 250 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight is the lethal oral dose, though lower doses can also be fatal. Signs of iron toxicity can occur at doses of between 20 to 60 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight. Iron overdose is a serious medical problem and can cause long-term damage to your digestive tract and nervous system.

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