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Iron deficiency: do you have a genetic risk?

The lack of iron can cause anaemia, unusual tiredness and many other problems. Knowing your genes can help you avoid them!

In our previous blog posts, you had the chance to discover that your DNA has the answers to many questions. How much coffee can you drink? Your genes certainly know! Are you prone to develop lactose intolerance? Your genes know that as well! Problems with gluten? Yes, your genes have the answer for that too!

With iron is no different! Our DNA is crucial to determine the level of iron in our body. Some people have a genetic profile that makes them more prone to develop iron deficiency.

Two main genes influence the iron level in our body: HFE and TMPRSS6. A person with an "unfavourable” copy of the TMPRSS6 gene has more risks to suffer from iron deficiency.

A low level of iron can lead to many complications like anaemia, a feeling of being tired all the time, paleness, shortness of breath, dry hair and skin, headaches and many others. Is that your case?

I am a vegetarian. How can I keep my levels up?

If you are a vegetarian, we have amazing news for you! Dark chocolate has three times more iron than meat! Surprised? I was too! Besides dark chocolate, some grains and nuts also have plenty of iron.

Great sources of iron include egg yolk, beans, oatmeal and pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, poppy and sesame seeds, rice bran and clams!

If you have a genetic risk for iron deficiency, we suggest that you eat also carrots, apricots, grapes and tomatoes. They contain beta-carotene and vitamin C. Vitamin C will help you increase the absorption of iron.

Genetic risk for iron deficiency

Too much iron can also be a serious problem

We all know that a low level of iron can lead to anaemia and many other problems, right? On the other hand, having a too high level of iron is also problematic and, sometimes, life-threating. Genetics, again, is crucial.

The gene HFE is related to having a too high level of iron. A person with unfavourable copies of this gene has more risk to accumulate iron in the body - a genetic condition called haemochromatosis that makes our body to absorb too much iron from the food we eat. The excess of iron is then stored in our liver, heart and pancreas. Having too much iron can lead to dangerous conditions, like liver disease, heart problems and diabetes.

genetic risk for iron deficiency

Approximately 1 in every 200 European descendant carries two copies of the defective gene for hemochromatosis and is at risk of being affected by the disease. But not everyone who carries this mutation develops the disease.

According to a study, 28% of men who had that genetic makeup developed haemochromatosis. In women, only 1%. Women are less likely to develop hemochromatosis because menstruation regularly eliminates the excess of iron. After menopause, those women can start showing its symptoms.

Early detection of the condition is important, so you can adapt your diet accordingly. Knowing your family history and whether you have a genetic risk for iron overload can help you and your doctor decide whether further testing is needed.

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