First For Women

Doctors miss IRON OVERLOAD 80% of the time


While iron deficiency, or anemia, gets more attention, up to half of women over age 50 are at risk of iron overload, which causes symptoms like fatigue and joint pain, says Lawrence Wilson, M.D., author of Nutritiona­l Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis. But most standard blood tests won’t detect a moderate overload. As a result, Dr. Wilson estimates that 80 percent of women with the condition go undiagnose­d.

Postmenopa­usal women are at greater risk of iron overload. When women stop menstruati­ng, the body has no way to get rid of iron, so it tends to accumulate, says Dr. Wilson. Why that’s a problem: “Too much of the mineral can damage the arteries, reducing blood flow to the rest of the body and making you tired.”

To diagnose iron overload, ask your doctor for a serum ferritin test. You can also buy an at-home hair-testing kit, like the Tissue Mineral Analysis ($160,

UniKeyHeal­, which checks levels of several minerals. If either test shows an overload, the steps below can help you feel better.

Reducing iron intake can help reverse iron overload. Dr. Wilson suggests eating 4 to 5 oz. of iron-rich red meat no more than twice a week, plus limiting alcohol (especially red wine, which contains iron) and white flour products, which are often fortified with iron.

Limit vitamin C to 250 mg a day, suggests Ronald Hoffman, M.D., medical director of the Hoffman Center in New York City. The vitamin encourages the body to absorb more iron from food.

Also smart: loading up on cooked cruciferou­s veggies like broccoli and cauliflowe­r. They boast minerals that help the body remove excess iron.

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