Iron: Is Supplementing Dangerous For Your Genes?

Written by: Jamie October 18, 2019

Being aware of your specific genes can help you make more informed decisions about the foods and exercises that are right (or wrong!) for your body—all of which can help prevent health problems later down the road.*

What is Iron?

Iron is an essential mineral for blood production that helps move oxygen through the body. Iron is a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia is a lack of red blood cells, which is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US. Symptoms can include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, brittle nails, and hair loss. Children, women of childbearing age, and vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of low iron.

Although it is an essential mineral, too much iron can also be harmful to the body. Your body does not flush it out and it builds up in the organs. Too much iron, or iron overload, can cause fatigue, joint pain, weight loss, arthritis, liver disease (cirrhosis), and diabetes.

How do I get Iron?

Iron must come from the food you eat or from supplements.

The following are good sources of Iron:

  • Red meat, pork, and poultry
  • Seafood and eggs
  • Peas and beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas
  • Supplements-Not recommended for people with certain gene mutations!

Your body absorbs iron from meat. If you are a vegetarian, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as does someone who eats meat.

How do genes play a role?

Gene variants can affect your ion levels leading to either deficiency or overload.

  • The HFE, HJV, and HAMP genes maintain iron levels in the blood by stopping iron absorption in the small intestine when levels get to high. Mutations can cause hereditary iron overload (hemochromatosis). Too much iron can then be absorbed from the diet and/or supplements. [1,2,3]
  • The TFR2 gene helps iron enter the liver cells. Mutations can prevent iron from binding, resulting in too much free iron that cannot be properly used in your body. [4]
  • The SLC40A1 gene helps carry iron through the body. Mutations stop proteins from releasing iron from the intestine which affects the body’s ability to regulate the amount of iron. [5]
  • The TMPRSS6 gene regulates iron levels in the body. Mutations can block the absorption of iron resulting in small and pale red blood cells. [6]

What can you do about it?.

  • Review your genetic predispositions.
  • If you have not done testing yet, get your genes tested with Secret Sequence!
  • Eat foods with iron to get your recommended daily amounts.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of both iron deficiency and iron overload. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns—Remember to discuss if you have genes which can affect your levels!

If you have high iron, or have a genetic risk for it:

  • Get your iron levels checked and talk to your doctor before taking any supplements . You may also want to avoid vitamin A and vitamin C supplement form as they increase iron absorption.
  • If you are female, be aware that menopause can make high iron worse. Many women do not notice symptoms until then.
  • Avoid eating too much red meats, organ meats, raw seafood, and fortified foods.
  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, eggs, tea/coffee, foods high in calcium, and lean proteins.
  • Avoid excess alcohol. Alcohol use, especially chronic, can damage the liver. Iron overload can also cause or worsen liver damage.

If you have low iron, or have a genetic risk for it:

  • Eat plenty of high iron foods.
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin C at the same time as iron-containing foods to increase absorption. Foods high in vitamin C include broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.
  • Avoid excess consumption of  the following which can interfere with iron absorption:
    • Tea/coffee
    • Milk and some dairy
    • Phytate rich foods:brown rice and whole-grains
    • Oxalic acid rich foods: peanuts, parsley, and chocolate
  • If you are a vegan or vegetarian, elderly, or have a health condition known to affect iron absorption, it is important get your iron levels checked.
  • Talk to your doctor before donating blood. It can remove too much iron stored in the body.

What Comes Next?

New research on the topic is being done all the time. You have the ability to learn more about your DNA, so why wouldn’t you want to learn what changes can make you a healthier you?

One more important reminder: you need to be in control of who you share that information with. Secret Sequence will never sell your data—we never even ask for your name! Safely learn more about yourself and your health: order our Nutrition report today to learn more about your body’s individual vitamin responses!

*Disclaimer: All information, content, and material of this website is for information purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.

 References:

[1] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/HFE#conditions

[2] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/HJV#synonyms

[3] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/HAMP

[4] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/TFR2

[5] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/SLC40A1

[6] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/TMPRSS6#conditions