Things to consider with haemochromatosis
Haemochromatosis (or ‘iron overload,’) is a hereditary condition that causes a person to absorb and store too much iron in their body. Normally, we store excess iron safely in our body, but in people with haemochromatosis, this iron gradually keeps rising, which can cause damage to organs, such as our liver.
People with haemochromatosis need to keep their iron levels monitored, and be treated with ‘venesection,’ This is similar to a blood donation, and means enough blood is removed to take iron levels down to a safe level. There’s no need to follow a low-iron diet, as venesection is the best way to remove excess iron.
However, it is reasonable for people with haemochromatosis to reduce their red meat intake if they would like to, as this may reduce the frequency of venesections. To best manage haemochromatosis, individuals with the condition should:
- Avoid iron supplements and other vitamin and mineral supplements that contain iron.
- Check with your doctor before taking any vitamin C supplements as it increases iron absorption from food.
- Check with your doctor about drinking alcohol as it can put extra strain on your liver.
- Read food labels and be aware of foods that are commonly fortified with iron, such as certain breads and breakfast cereals, Milo, fortified ‘energy’ or sports bars and many meal replacement drinks or shakes.
- Understand which foods naturally contain iron: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal foods particularly red meat (beef, lamb, offal) and is well absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is found in plant foods such as legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. This type of iron is generally not as well absorbed by the body compared to haem iron.
If you are concerned about your dietary intake of iron or would like to know more about iron in food, see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). APDs are university trained nutrition professionals who can help formulate an effective diet plan for patients who have complex dietary requirements.