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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have a high iron blood level. Should I be on a special diet?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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September 14, 2011
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A:

Before making any changes in your diet, let’s first consider what your high iron level means for you.

The normal range for iron in male adults is 65 to 176 ìg/dL. For women, the normal range is 50 to 170 ìg/dL.

If your level is high, this does not necessarily mean you have too much iron in your body. To know that for sure, you also need to know the results of two other blood tests:

  • TIBC (total iron binding capacity).Your iron level divided by your TIBC determines your transferrin saturation. Transferrin is the primary iron binding protein in blood.
  • Ferritin (another protein that binds iron)

Ideally, you should take iron, TIBC and ferritin blood tests after fasting overnight. And don’t eat meat before the test. This can cause falsely high readings.

Here is how the two additional blood test results help. If the saturation is greater than 45%, you could have iron overload. It’s a condition called hemochromatosis. Almost always, your ferritin level also would be high in this condition (higher than 200 ng/ml in women, 300 ng/ml in men).

There are other reasons for having high levels of iron, ferritin and transferrin saturation. For example, active liver disease, such as chronic hepatitis from a virus or alcohol use, can raise these numbers into the abnormal range.

Depending on the results of your transferrin saturation and ferritin tests, your doctor will determine if you need further testing for hemochromatosis.

If you do have hemochromatosis, you will want to avoid iron-rich foods. Foods like red meat and liver have the greatest amounts of iron.

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