Take a Selfie from the Inside
For adults, I strongly recommend getting a complete biometric screening at least twice a year. Military personnel and athletes should receive 4 to 6 screenings a year.
Two really important biomarkers to check are serum ferritin (which measures stored iron) and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase or sometimes called gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT; a liver enzyme correlated with iron toxicity, liver damage, disease risk, and mortality). When it comes to iron overload and deficiency, I believe it can be every bit as dangerous to your health as vitamin D deficiency.
By monitoring iron and GGT levels you can discover whether or not you are hitting the iron too hard or not hard enough while avoiding serious health problems.
Optimizing & Monitoring Iron and GGT Levels
Iron is one of the most common nutritional supplements. Not only can you get it as an isolated supplement, but it’s also added to most multivitamins. Many processed foods are also fortified with iron.
While iron is necessary for biological function, when you get too much, it can do tremendous harm. Unfortunately, the first thing people think about when they hear “iron” is anemia, or iron deficiency, not realizing that iron overload is actually a more common problem, and far more dangerous.
Many doctors don’t understand or appreciate the importance of checking for iron overload.
Iron Deficiency, Coronary Heart Disease & Sources of Iron
With that said a study by researchers from Imperial College London, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology1 has found that low iron levels also increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease (a type of heart disease.)
A word of warning though: An earlier study by researchers at Indiana University, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that high levels of heme iron, which is only found in meat, can actually cause coronary heart disease (CHD), increasing risk by as much as 57%.
The study found that the body is better able to absorb non-heme iron, which is iron from vegetable sources, and even iron supplements, than from meat sources. Heme iron is absorbed at a much greater rate in comparison to non-heme iron (37 percent vs. 5 percent).
Once absorbed, it can act as a catalyst in the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, causing tissue-damaging inflammation, which is a potential risk factor for CHD. To regulate your consumption and absorption of heme iron do not consume more than 25 grams of protein per meal.
Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency to be aware of are tiredness, shortness of breath, decreased endurance, dizziness, headaches, cold hands and feet, chest pain, physical weakness and pale skin.
Other possible problems include brittle nails, cracks on the sides of the mouth, frequent infections, restless leg syndrome and difficulty sleeping. The only way to determine if you have iron overload is by monitoring iron and GGT levels.
Virtually all adult men and postmenopausal women are at risk for iron overload due to inefficient iron excretion, since they do not lose blood on a regular basis.
Blood loss is the primary way to lower excess iron, as the body has no active excretion mechanisms.
Another common cause of excess iron is the regular consumption of alcohol, which will increase the absorption of any iron in your diet. For instance, if you drink wine with your steak, you will likely absorb more iron than you need.
There’s also an inherited disease, hemochromatosis, which causes your body to accumulate excessive and dangerously damaging levels of iron.
Effects of Iron Overload
If left untreated, high iron can contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, joint pain and many other health problems, including gouty arthritis.
In one small study,2 100% of the patients achieved a significant reduction in gouty attacks or complete remission after phlebotomy was used to remove iron and maintain an iron level at a near-iron deficiency, the lowest body iron store compatible with the normal production of red blood cells and absence of anemia.
Iron causes all this harm by stimulating a reaction within the inner mitochondrial membrane. When iron reacts with hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl free radicals are formed.
These are some of the most damaging free radicals known, causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn is at the heart of most chronic degenerative diseases. Enhance your health by monitoring iron and GGT levels.
Energy and Free Radicals Relationship with Iron
Your body creates energy by passing the electrons from carbs and fats you eat as fuel to oxygen through the electron transport chain in your mitochondria to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 95% of the time, the oxygen is converted to water. But 0.5 to 5 % of the time, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are created. ROS are not all bad, but excessive ROS leads to mitochondrial damage and dysfunction.
Iron can react with hydrogen peroxide in the inner mitochondrial membrane. This is a normal part of cellular aerobic respiration. But when you have excessive iron, it initiates the formation of excessive hydroxyl free radicals from the peroxide, which decimates your mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial electron transport proteins, and cellular membranes.
This is how iron overload accelerates chronic disease.
If you eat excessive net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) the situation is further exacerbated, as burning carbs as your primary fuel can add another 30 to 40 % more ROS on top of the hydroxyl free radicals generated by the presence of high iron.
Unfortunately, most people reading this are burning carbs as their primary fuel. If you struggle with any kind of chronic health problem and have high iron and eat a standard American diet that is high in net carbs, normalizing your iron level (explained below) and implementing a ketogenic diet can go a long way toward improving your health.
The key to comfortably transitioning into nutritional ketosis is to gradually reduce your carb intake, but not over a set period of time. When your macronutrient ratios and ketone bodies reflect
The key to comfortably transitioning into nutritional ketosis is to gradually reduce your carbohydrate intake, but not over a set period of time. You should reduce your carb consumption until your macronutrient ratios and ketone bodies reflect that your body is burning fat for fuel, you have addressed any cravings and you have maintained your energy levels. (Hint: have high-fat snacks on hand so you remain satiated and keep cravings at bay).
You can refer to the lists of SAMPLE KETO MEALS and KETO FOODS for dietary suggestions.
Taking extra antioxidants to suppress ROS generated by high iron alone or in combination with a high-sugar diet is inadvisable, as ROS also act as important signaling molecules.
They’re not all bad.
They cause harm only when produced in excess. Your best bet is to lower the production of ROS. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is to eat a diet high in healthy fats, adequate in protein and low in net carbs.
Eating healthy fats can make a bigger difference than you might think, especially if you have high iron. Monitoring iron and GGT levels will provide you the ability to be proactive in maintaining your health.
What is GGT?
GGT is a liver enzyme involved in glutathione metabolism and the transport of amino acids and peptides.
Not only will the GGT test tell you if you have liver damage, it can also be used as a screening marker for excess free iron and is a great indicator of your sudden cardiac death risk.
Recently, GGT was proven by the life insurance industry as the single measure that is most predictive of early mortality.3,4
In other studies, it’s linked to pretty much every cause of death,5 because it produces free radicals and hydroxyl radicals.
Essentially, a reduction in glutathione levels, your body’s most important antioxidant, is indicated by an increase in GGT levels.
Glyphosate, excess iron and other substances in the environment, whether you take it in as food or it’s in the air, that utilize your body’s toxic waste disposal system will reduce your body’s level of antioxidants.
A reduction in antioxidants makes you more vulnerable to chronic health problems, particularly chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases.
The Interaction of Iron and GGT
GGT is highly interactive with iron, and when both your serum ferritin and GGT are high, you have a significantly increased risk of chronic health problems. Elevated serum ferritin and GGT creates a combination of free iron, which is highly toxic, and iron storage to keep that toxicity going.6
Low levels of GGT are protective against higher ferritin levels. So, if your GGT is low, you’re largely protected even if your ferritin is a bit higher than normal. Even with that said I suggest that you lower your ferritin to an optimal level. On the other hand, even if your ferritin is low, having elevated GGT levels is cause for concern, and needs to be addressed. An integral part of optimizing your health is monitoring iron and GGT levels.
Lowering Your GGT Level
GGT is inversely related to glutathione, your body’s most important antioxidant. As your GGT level rises, your glutathione level goes down. This is one way how elevated GGT harms your health. By elevating your glutathione level, you coincidently lower your GGT level. The amino acid cysteine, found in whey protein, poultry, and eggs, plays an important role in your body’s production of glutathione. Red meat, which does not contain cysteine, has the ability to raise your GGT level. Alcohol will also.7 Research also suggests that eating at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per week rich in vitamin C, fiber, beta-carotene, anthocyanins, and folate can help reduce GGT.8,9 Examples include carrots, romaine lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, apricots, and tomatoes.
Also, be aware that certain medications can raise your GGT level. If you are currently taking medication(s) please speak with your doctor to determine whether you can stop taking the medication or switch to something else. Do your best to avoid over-the-counter medicines, including ibuprofen and aspirin, both of which can damage your liver if taken on a recurring basis. General detoxification is another important component if your GGT is high, as your liver’s job is to remove toxins from your body. Milk Thistle and Livatrex are all-natural high-quality supplements that assist in effective liver detoxification. The fact that your GGT is elevated means your liver is under stress.
Lowering Your Serum Ferritin Level
The good news is that it’s easy to lower your iron level if it’s too high or increase your iron level if it’s too low. While health professionals are often quick to advise consuming a supplement, it is always better to find natural, easily absorbed sources of vitamins and minerals, including iron. Excellent sources of iron include green peas, parsley, fortified bread, beans, nuts and green leafy vegetables, particularly spinach.
Keep in mind that trying to control high iron through your diet alone can be risky, as you will also forgo many valuable nutrients. That said, to avoid maximizing iron absorption, avoid eating iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, as the vitamin C will increase iron absorption.
One of the easiest ways to lower your iron level is simply donating blood two to four times a year or consistently implementing therapeutic phlebotomy. If you are not comfortable with needles and/or donating blood. I recommend a balanced comprehensive strategy that takes into account detoxification, near and far infrared sauna and reducing dietary iron (especially heme iron found in meat). This is the best way to go about lowering as well monitoring iron and GGT levels.
Monitoring Iron and GGT Levels
Unfortunately, many doctors are still unaware of the importance of checking for iron overload and many doctors may overlook the GGT test as well. One of the reasons it’s difficult to get doctors to order GGT tests is they’re discouraged because they know some prescription drugs increase GGT levels. It’s not a desireable situation for a doctor to see a measure of disease increase by prescribing a pharmaceutical drug. This creates procedural resistance for doctors to order these tests. But all in all, it’s a pretty simple test to perform and is recommended.
Getting a Biometric Screening
In summary, if you’re concerned about maintaining your health and preventing chronic disease, I strongly encourage you to regularly get a complete biometric screening that includes the