Hemochromatosis Case Study

From too tired to work to feeling great

by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist

Client name and identifying information changed

James, a personal trainer, came to me feeling so tired that he could no longer work at the gym. He was initially given iron injections by his doctor to build his iron and was also instructed to take iron tablets. This made him feel worse which prompted his doctor to check his iron levels only to find that he had iron overload.

He was checked for the hemochromatosis gene and he had one of the two genes, so he wasn’t considered to have hemochromatosis, just iron overload. It was rather strange that the doctor gave him iron without checking his levels, but the result was that he then had to have blood withdrawals to try and reduce iron overload as his liver was also showing signs of distress. This procedure to draw blood is called phlebotomy (similar to a blood donation).

With each phlebotomy treatment, he felt even worse and said it was ‘like the life was being sucked out of him’.

We checked a few other things and his tests revealed high inflammation markers and high liver enzymes. So I started him on a diet to reduce inflammation by taking him off gluten, dairy and sugar and changed his predominantly meat diet to one of fish and seafood to reduce the inflammation and help block any further iron absorption.

He was encouraged to eat lots of spinach, beetroot and kale as these support some non-haem iron, blocked haem iron absorption and supported his failing liver. We included a dressing with meals of Tahini (sesame paste) which is rich in calcium to help block iron absorption.

When he wasn’t eating fish, he ate legumes and brown rice. He wasn’t a fan of vegetarian foods so instead he preferred to snack on peanuts. Although iron overload clients often do well on a ketogenic diet, James preferred a good balance of proteins, carbs and fats and after six weeks of eating this way he felt much better.

His iron still showed quite high for a while but was not in the critical area anymore and his energy was slowly getting better with each passing month.

After three months of this diet he was back full swing at the gym as a personal trainer and feeling great.

Not a lot of research has been done on this type of diet for those with full blown genetic hemochromatosis, but some initial studies have been very promising using this style of diet concurrently with phlebotomy therapy.

Because the use of the above foods long-term might create an imbalance in other nutrients, it’s a good idea to check with your health care provider to ensure all your nutrient needs are covered.

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