Saturday, September 2, 2017

Heath Effects of Iron Overload and Benefits of Blood Donation

Iron overload—a buildup of extra iron—without treatment can permanently damage organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas; endocrine glands; and joints.[23] Excess Iron can also increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death.[24]

In this article, we will cover the following topics:
  • Negative health effects of iron overload
  • Benefits of blood donation for most people

Serum Ferritin Test

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron and acts as a buffer against iron deficiency and iron overload. It is found in most tissues as a cytosolic protein, but small amounts are secreted into the serum where it functions as an iron carrier. Therefore, plasma ferritin is a good indirect marker of the total amount of iron stored in your body.

The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 ng/mL. Below 20, you are iron deficient, and above 80, you have an iron overload.[22]

Health Effects of Iron Overload

In addition to damaging your mitochondria and contributing to genetic mutations,[22] excess iron could lead to higher risk of the following:
  • Obesity
    • Iron is a growth factor
      • As low iron levels in pregnant women are associated with low birth weight babies, so are increased iron levels associated with weight gain.[16,17]
    • A large epidemiological study in Korea shows that moderately elevated levels of serum ferritin predicated future weight gain, obesity, and even severe obesity.[18]
  • Promotion of growth of pathogens
    • Excessive iron in the body facilitates growth of pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.[19]
  • Diabetes
    • Iron is believed to influence blood glucose and insulin levels and there is a correlation between serum ferritin levels and type 2 diabetes.[13,-15]
  • Cardiovascular disease
    • A high heme iron intake, particularly in normal weight individuals, may increase the risk of stroke.[25]
    • Iron likely plays a role in heart disease by participating in the oxidation of LDL and damage of endothelial cells, both of which contribute to atherosclerosis.[11,12]
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
    • Iron is found in high concentrations in the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and in abnormal concentrations in the brains of patients with early-onset Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's diseases.[8-10]
  • Cancer
    • Serum ferritin is elevated in patients with many types of cancers.[4-7]
      • Excess iron could promote inflammation in the colon that leads to mucosal damage.
  • Osteoporosis
    • People with iron-loading disorders, such as hemochromatosis, are more likely to have osteoporosis.[3]

Blood Donation

Women in their reproductive years have an average ferritin level of 35 ng/mL, while men in the same age range have an average level of 150 ng/mL.[21] If your level of serum ferritin is above 80 ng/mL, you have an iron overload. Knowing that excess iron negatively impact your health, how can you reduce the excess?

Your body has a limited capacity to excrete iron, so it can easily build up in and damage organs like your liver, heart, and pancreas and cause many health problems. The safest, effective, and least expensive way to remove excess iron is simply to remove blood from your body—by donating blood or getting a prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy.   For each unit of blood donated, you lose about one-quarter of a gram of iron.

With blood donation, you also benefit from the following:
  • Donated blood can be harvested for Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) which can then be used in regenerative therapies.[26]
  • Multiple epidemiological studies have linked increased longevity with serum ferritin levels below a threshold of 80-90 ng/mL, which is a typical plateau for postmenopausal women.[20]
  • A randomized trial found that blood draws reduced incidence of all cancers by 37%.[7]
  • Based on a Nurses' Health Study, it shows that those who had donated blood were 50% less likely to have a stroke or heart attack.
  • Frequent blood donors have been shown to have better insulin sensitivity and a decreased risk of diabetes.[15]

Based on the book (i.e., "Fat for Fuel") of Dr. Mercola, he recommends the following blood donation schedule dependent on your ferritin level:

Ferritin Level
Donation Schedule
(Times per Year)
< 60Not Necessary
100-1251 to 2
126-2002 to 3
201-2503 to 4
> 2506 if possible


  1. China liver problems boost demand for US blood plasma
  2. Four Unexpected Benefits of Donating Blood
  3. L. Valenti et al., "Association between Iron Overload and Osteoporosis in Patients with Hereditary Hemochromatosis," Osteoporosis International, 20, no. 4 (April, 2009): 549-55.
  4. A. A. Alkhateeb and J. R. Connor, "The Significance of Ferritin in Cancer: Anti-Oxidation, Inflammation and Tumorigenesis," Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1836, no. 2 (Dec 2013):245-54.
  5. J. I. Wurzelmann et al., "Iron Intake and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer," Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 5, no. 7 (July 1, 1996): 503-7. PMID: 8827353.
  6. Y. Deugnier, "Iron and Liver Cancer," Alcohol, 30, no. 2 (2003): 145-50.
  7. L. R. Zacharski et al., "Decreased Cancer Risk after Iron Reduction in Patients with Peripheral Arterial Disease: Results from a Randomized Trial," JNCI:Journal of National Cancer Institute, 100, no. 14 (2008): 996-1002.
  8. M. A. Lovell et al., "Copper, Iron and Zinc in Alzheimer's Disease Senile Plaques," Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 158, no. 1 (June 11, 1998): 47-52.
  9. K. Jellinger et al., "Brain Iron and Ferritin in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases," Journal of Neural Transmission, 2 (1990): 327.
  10. G. Bartzokis et al., "Brain Ferritin Iron as a Risk Factor for Age at Onset in Neurodegenerative Diseases," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1012, (2004): 224-36.
  11. B, J, Van Lenten et al., "Lipid-Induced Changes in Intracellular Iron Homeostasis in Vitro and in Vivo," Journal of Clinical Investigation, 95, no. 5 (1995): 2104-10.
  12. N. Stadler, R. A. Lindner, and M. J. Davies, "Direct Detection and Quantiication of Transition Metal Ions in Human Atheroslerotic Plaques: Evidence for the Presence of Elevated Levels of Iron and Coper," Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 24 (2004): 949-54.
  13. J. M. Fernandez-Real et al., "Serum Ferritin as a Component of the Insulin Resistance Syndrome," Diabetes Care, 21, no. 1 (1998): 62-68.
  14. J. Montonen et al., "Body Iron Stores and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam Study," Diabetologia, 55, no. 10 (2012): 2613-21.
  15. J. M. Fernandez-Real, A. Lopez-Bermejo, and W. Ricart, "Iron Stores, Blood Donation, and Insulin Sensitivity and Secretion," Clinical Chemistry, 51, no. 7 (June 2005): 1201-5.
  16. D. J. Fleming et al., "Dietary Factors Associated with the Risk of High Iron Stores n the Elderly Framingham Heart Study Cohort," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76, no. 6 (2002): 1375-84.
  17. T. Iwasaki et al., "Serum Ferritin Is Associated with Visceral Fat Area and Subcutaneous Fat Area," Diabetes Care, 28, no. 10 (2005): 2486-91.
  18. S. K. Park et al., "Association between Serum Ferritin Levels and the Incidence of Obesity in Korean Men: A Prospective Cohort Study," Endocrine Journal, 61, no. 3 (2014): 215-24.
  19. G. Ortiz-Estrada et al., "Iron-Saturated Lactoferrin and Pathogenic Protozoa: Could This Protein Be and Iron Source for Their Parasitic Style of Life?" Future Microbioloty, 7, no. 1 (2012): 149-64.
  20. L. Zacharski, "Ferrotoxic Disease: The Next Great Public Health Challenge," Clinical Chemistry, 60, no. 11 (November 2014): 1362-4.
  21. P. Mangan, Dumping Iron: How to Ditch This Secret Killer and Reclaim Your Health, Phalanx Press, 2016, locations 308-12.
  22. Fat for Fuel (Dr. Mercola)
  23. What is hemochromatosis?
  24. Dietary Iron Overload as a Risk Factor for HepatocellularCarcinoma in Black Africans
    • Among 24 patients, the risk of developing HCC in the iron-loaded subjects was 10.6-fold relative to individuals with normal iron status.
  25. Kaluza J, Wolk A, Larsson SC. Heme iron intake and risk of stroke: a prospective study of men. Stroke. 2013 Feb;44(2):334-9.
  26. Use of Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) in Regenerative Therapies (Travel to Health)

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