Medical Information

Guidance of better health

Men's Health Article

All men should have their iron levels tested.

The only practical way to determine how much iron a person has in his body is to use blood tests called "serum ferritin" and "transferring saturation." These tests can provide a fairly accurate estimate of the amount of iron in the body. However, either one of these tests could be normal even if a person has severe excess iron accumulation, so it is very important that both tests be performed.

Also, no food should be eaten for 8-12 hours before having the test performed; this will help to ensure accurate test results. If you have these tests performed, your doctor should be able to help you understand your test results and to give you specific advice for your particular situation. These tests must be performed if unhealthy iron levels are to be detected. Given that iron accumulation disorders are very common in men, all men should have their iron levels tested.3 Indeed, everyone-men and women-should be screened for iron disorders.
"If excess iron is such an important health issue for men, then why hasn't my doctor already told me about it and why hasn't my doctor already performed these tests on me? When should I have these tests done?"

The negative effects of excess iron have only been recognized within the past few years. No doctor can stay informed of every important advance in clinical information. Thousands of important articles are published every day. And although many articles on excess iron have been published recently, perhaps your doctor hasn't yet read the ones on iron overload. If you visit your doctor to have your iron status tested, you might want to take this article so that your doctor will have an opportunity to learn about the adverse effects of excess iron.

Misinformation about iron has been widely publicized for several decades. For years, we were so convinced that iron deficiency was the problem that we never thought to consider that iron overload-too much iron-might cause even more serious health problems. It is true that iron deficiency is a problem for some people, especially some pregnant women 9 and young children.10 However, adults generally do not need to eat a high-iron diet (i.e., lots of beef, liver, pork) and do not need to take iron supplements unless they have been advised to do so by a doctor for the specific treatment of iron deficiency.11

You might consider having these tests done when you have your next annual physical examination. Although excess iron is certainly an important health issue for men, you probably don't need to rush to your doctor's office right away. But, based on the present research which shows that excess iron may be hazardous to your health, if you haven't already been tested for excess iron, you may want to have your iron levels tested within the upcoming year.

Early testing and treatment for iron overload saves money and lives by preventing serious disease, 12 and doctors and public health organizations may eventually begin screening everyone for excess iron.13 But until routine screening becomes more widely implemented, you'll have to look out for yourself and become your own health advocate if you want to have these tests performed.

"How much iron is too much?"

Research by several experts on iron metabolism has suggested that iron levels which correlate with a serum ferrites value greater than 100 and a transferrin saturation value greater than 35% may be a predisposing factor for the development for cancer, heart attack, and other diseases.2, 5, 6, 14, 15

Although not all persons with excess iron develop disease, and not all persons with disease have excess iron, researchers are continually finding an association between the amount of iron in the body and the risk for disease. Since excess body iron, especially in men, can do little good and yet can do great harm, all men who want to reduce their risk of cancer and heart disease should consider reducing their levels of iron.

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