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Too Much Iron Can Harm

Several studies have shown that high blood levels of iron are associated with an increased risk of suffering heart attacks and cancers, particularly, those of the esophagus and bladder. It may be the meat source of iron, rather than just the iron itself, that causes the heart attacks and cancers.

People who eat a lot of meat, fish and chicken have higher blood levels of iron than vegetarians. The iron in meat, fish and chicken is called heme iron, which is absorbed at a very high level, around 10-20 percent. On the other hand, the iron that you get from plants is absorbed very poorly; only one to three percent of the iron from leafy green vegetables and other plant sources of iron is absorbed.

Even though there is an association between high iron levels and cancer and heart attacks, we do not know if the iron causes these diseases. You can find out if your iron level is too high by asking you doctor to draw blood for a test called transferrin iron binding saturation. People with a transferrin iron binding saturation of more than 60 percent are at increased risk for developing heart attacks and cancers. If your level is greater than 60 percent, you can reduce your intake of iron by restricting meat, fish, chicken and iron-supplemented foods, and you can get rid of extra iron by donating blood 6 or more times a year.
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By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News

Checked 4/9/10

June 10th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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