Food Science and Nutrition

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IRON TOXICITY:

What is Haemochromatosis?

Haemochromatosis is a medical condition caused by an overload of iron in your body.

There are several forms of haemochromatosis. This leaflet provides information about the most common form, known as hereditary or genetic haemochromatosis (GH), and looks very briefly at some more rare forms and other types of iron-overloading disorders.

In genetic haemochromatosis, inheritance of a faulty or abnormal gene is responsible for an increase in the amount of iron entering the body.

People with haemochromatosis absorb at least twice as much iron as normal. When more than five grams of iron has been absorbed, it will start to become deposited around the body. An excessive amount of iron can mean 20g or more.

The poisonous (toxic) effects of this extra iron mean that haemochromatosis is a potentially lethal condition, but it can be treated effectively if diagnosed early enough.

How will haemochromatosis affect me?

Haemochromatosis can cause a range of problems in your body, primarily in the liver.

It is thought that the extra iron causes damage by increasing the production of harmful oxygen

molecules in your body cells. Known as ‘free radicals’, these molecules are linked to other

diseases and understood to play a role in the body’s aging process. They can be toxic when there are too many and this is made worse by the presence of iron. Free radicals will interact with other molecules to damage cells, tissues and organs.

In the liver this takes the form of scarring, known as fibrosis. Additionally, your liver may become enlarged (hepatomegaly). With ongoing liver damage, fibrosis may progress to cirrhosis. If this happens, you are at greater risk of liver cancer, known as hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC.

Haemochromatosis is likely to lead to serious problems in other organs. Pancreatic damage

leading to diabetes and dysfunction in the sexual glands are common, as is the development of...

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