Roger-Luc Chayer

The vast majority of the public believe that iron is good for health, that it is necessary for life and that the more you eat, the stronger you become physically and muscularly. It is true that a normal amount of iron in the blood is good for red blood cells and for fighting anemia, but few know that the most common genetic disease in Caucasians is too much absorption of this mineral. essential; this disease is hemochromatosis.

Found in about one in 300 people in Canada, it is characterized by an accumulation of iron in the body over the years. According to Wikipedia, hemochromatosis was first described by Armand Trousseau in 1865. He describes in some diabetics a tanned complexion (bronzed diabetes) associated with cirrhosis (pigmentary cirrhosis). Subsequently, anatomical pathology studies show tissue iron overload, especially in the liver and several other organs such as the intestines, kidneys and testes. Often, hemochromatosis manifests itself early in men as a gradual drop in testosterone levels leading to a marked decrease in libido.

Patients therefore consult for this reason and doctors informed of this symptom can, since 1990, do a test for two genetic abnormalities that will confirm the diagnosis. Often, it is also during routine blood tests that the doctor can observe a high amount of iron and then request a genetic test.

Mutations in the TFR2 gene, according to pharmaceutical company Merck, alter the body’s ability to control iron absorption in certain cells. Although these types of hemochromatosis can appear at different ages, the symptoms and complications of iron overload are always the same. Symptoms vary, as the buildup of iron can damage any tissue or organ in the body, including the brain, liver, pancreas, lungs or heart.
But the good news in this case is that it is treated relatively well and some symptoms are sometimes reversible. According to Merck, phlebotomy, which involves removing blood, is usually the best treatment. It helps prevent damage to other organs, but does not correct existing damage. Initially, the phlebotomy is performed once or sometimes twice a week. During each procedure, approximately 500 milliliters (or 1 unit) of blood is drawn until the iron level and the percentage of iron in transferrin are normal. The phlebotomy is then performed regularly in order to maintain iron stores at normal levels.

The logic behind this treatment is that when the patient is withdrawn in the right amount of blood, the body will draw on iron stores to replenish hemoglobin. After several withdrawals, the iron level returns to normal not just in the blood, but also in the affected organs. With regular monitoring, people with hemochromatosis can lead healthy, normal lives.