These foods act as natural iron chelators, reducing risk for secondary disease
Iron is an essential mineral used by the body to create red blood cells and transport oxygen to muscles and other tissues.
The USDA recommends that women between 19 and 50 years old consume 18 mg of iron a day, while women ages 51 and older and men 19 years and older require 8 mg a day. (1)
People with transfusion dependent thalassemia know that blood transfusions cause higher amounts of iron to build in their bodies. According to Hoffbrand, Taher, and Cappellini (2012), those receiving "2-4 units of blood per month have an annual intake of 5,000-10,000 mg of iron per day." (2)
Since there is no physiological way for excess iron to exit the body, it is essential for transfusion dependent thalassemia patients to use iron chelation (i.e., removal) medication.
If iron is not removed from the body it becomes stored in various tissues. Excessive iron storage causes diseases of the liver (e.g., nonalcoholic fatty liver disease), pancreas (e.g., diabetes), heart (i.e., heart failure), brain (e.g., Alzheimer's disease), bone cells (e.g., osteoporosis and osteopenia), nervous system (e.g., peripheral neuropathy), endocrine system (e.g., hormone disorders and thyroid disease), arteries (e.g., arteriosclerosis), and cancer. (3, 4, 5)
Iron overload of the heart is the number one cause of death in patients with transfusion dependent thalassemia. (6)
Dietary absorption of iron occurs primarily in the intestines thanks to a hormone produced by the liver called hepcidin.
Hepcidin levels naturally go up and down in the body, according to the body's need to create red blood cells.
When red blood cell formation is stimulated, hepcidin levels are suppressed and iron becomes more readily absorbed in the digestive tract.
When hepcidin levels are high, iron absorption and storage gets blocked during digestion.
If someone with transfusion dependent thalassemia receives a blood transfusion, hepcidin secretion increases and this reduces the amount of iron absorbed in the intestines.
As this same patient comes closer to needing a transfusion, their body starts to think it needs to create red blood cells, so hepcidin levels decrease and more iron gets absorbed from the diet. (7, 8)
The rate of digestive iron absorption for people living with less transfusion burden (due to thalassemia intermedia) is 3-4 times greater than normal, thus exacerbating their toxic iron load and spleen enlargement. (9)
Iron loading increases serum ferritin and causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation leads to increased urinary excretion of hepcidin. When hepcidin gets excreted instead of utilized by the body, inappropriate distribution of iron occurs and this leads to iron toxicity. (10, 11)
While iron chelation medications like Deferoxamine, Deferasirox, and Ferriprox are absolutely vital for the health and longevity of a person with transfusion dependent thalassemia, one should also be aware that there are natural whole foods that have been found to chelate or block iron absorption in the body.
Before I share which foods act as iron scavengers or inhibitors, I want you to know that the #1 source of dietary iron comes animal products. This includes chicken, fish, beef, pork, eggs, organ meats, marrow, and shellfish. If you are consuming these animal products you are also consuming bioavailable iron that will harm your body.
Most people with thalassemia know that black or green teas, coffee, red wine, and milk products inhibit iron absorption during digestion. Unfortunately, dairy causes inflammation; green/black teas and coffees are high in caffeine which creates an unhealthy stress response and insulin resistance in the body; and alcohol denatures and destroys red blood cells. One should not excessively rely on these foods for nutritional support.
For this reason, I have compiled a list of foods that you can depend on for both their antioxidant and natural iron chelating and or inhibiting effects.
When purchasing foods, be sure to choose produce that is verified as non-GMO and sourced from organic farms within either the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, or Australia. Foods sourced from China have been found to be high in arsenic and various heavy metals, even when classified as non-GMO and organic. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16) & (17, 18, 19, 20)
#1 — Iron Chelating/Inhibiting Foods Are High In Polyphenols
Granny Smith & Red Delicious Apples*
*You must eat the skin of these fruits to receive the most benefit.
Icelandic, Dulse, or Red Seaweed
Black or Red Grapes
Grind up flaxseeds and then eat them to get the most benefit.
#2 — Iron Chelating/Inhibiting Foods Are High In Catechins
Nuts (i.e, almonds, pecans, pistachios, etc.)
#3 — Iron Chelating/Inhibiting Foods Are High In Flavonoids
Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans)
#3 — Iron Chelating/Inhibiting Foods Are High In Quercetin
Red Leaf Lettuce
Remember, every food you consume either contributes to your body’s health and wellness or pushes your body towards decline and degeneration.
As we all know, degeneration leads to disease and early death. If anyone tells you to eat animal products for wellness ask them how many secondary diseases they have. The truth is, you can reduce your risk of acquiring secondary illnesses simply by eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing your fat content… but fat is a discussion for another day.
To your good health,
17) Zhang, M., Huang, G., & Jiang, J. (2014). Iron binding capacity of dephytinised soy protein isolate hydrolysate as influenced by the degree of hydrolysis and enzyme type. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 51(5), 994-999. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13197-011-0586-7
18) Nestel, P. J., Pally, S., Macintosh, G. L., Greeve, M. A., Middleton, S., Jowett, J., & Meikle, P. J. (2012). Circulating inflammatory and atherogenic biomarkers are not increased following single meals of dairy foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(1), 25-31. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.134
19) Sohn, E. (2007, Jun 25). What is it about coffee?; the caffeine gives you a jolt, but the drink's vaunted health benefits may be in spite of the stimulant rather than because of it. Los Angeles Times Retrieved from http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/422206066?accountid=33843
20) Ballard, H. S. (1997). The hematological complications of alcoholism. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(1), 42-49+. Retrieved from http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/222383360?accountid=33843