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New Ways to Make Iron Work for You

Hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disease in the United States. and it affects about a million people. It is a genetic disease that causes excess iron accumulation. Since iron is a very potent oxidant stress it can contribute to serious degenerative changes in the body like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

I find very large percentage of my patients, primarily adult men, suffer from excess iron. My dad and I have this problem. While it is not full blown hemochromatosis, it is an acquired, not genetic form of the problem, called hemosiderosis. It caused type one diabetes in my dad and he now requires daily insulin at the age of 76.

Exciting new research has unveiled potential therapies for not only iron overload but iron deficiency. I have treated many thousands of rheumatoid arthritis patients and most have what appears to be an iron deficiency anemia, but isn't actually, and giving iron to them will make them worse. I had always wondered about this and now these researchers have provided the answer as to why this occurs.

They discovered that the hormone hepcidin controls ferroportin, an iron-transporting molecule on the surface of specific cells that contain iron. Hepcidin signals ferroportin not to release iron into the blood stream. Ferroportin is necessary to help release iron into the bloodstream and it appears that hepcidin directly regulates this activity. Too much hepcidin present in the body -- which can occur in patients with infections or with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease -- often results in not enough iron released into the blood stream causing chronic anemia.

Researchers believe that a form of hepcidin may be developed that people with hemochromatosis could inject to help reduce the amount of iron taken up by the body - similar to the use of insulin to control the amount of sugar in the body. For patients with anemia associated with too much hepcidin development of drugs to block hepcidin from binding to ferroportin might help release more iron into the body.

I had previously used IPS (ionositol hexaphosphate or phytic acid) for this, but a hepcidin seems a far more effective and precise solution that could make a major difference for millions of Americans once an analog is developed.

Science October 28, 2004

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