Everything You Need to Know About Hemochromatosis Diet

Hemochromatosis is a medical disorder that occurs when there is an accumulation of an unhealthy amount of iron in the body. Because your body is unable to get rid of the excess iron, you could end up with serious health problems. (1)

The extra iron accumulates in the following:

  • heart
  • joints
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • pituitary gland
  • skin

What Signs and Symptoms Are Associated with Hemochromatosis?

Many persons who have hemochromatosis do not exhibit any outward signs of the condition. If symptoms are present, they could appear differently in different people. (1)

The following are examples of some common symptoms:

  • abdominal pain
  • a bronzed or grayish complexion
  • a lack of sexual drive
  • joint discomfort
  • weariness and a lack of strength
  • weight reduction

Causes of Hemochromatosis

Primary and secondary hemochromatosis are the two types of this genetic disorder. (1)

Primary Hemochromatosis

Primary hemochromatosis sometimes referred to as hereditary hemochromatosis, is typically caused by causes that are genetic in nature. (1)

The HFE gene, also known as the hemochromatosis gene, regulates the amount of iron that is absorbed from the food you eat. It is located on the chromosome 6 arm which is shorter. The C28Y and H63D variants of this gene are the ones that get mutated the most frequently. (1)

In most cases, a person with hereditary hemochromatosis inherits a faulty gene from both of their parents. This is called autosomal dominant inheritance. On the other hand, not everyone who inherits the genes will end up with the disease. The question of why some persons experience the symptoms of iron overload while others do not is being investigated by researchers. (1)

This disorder affects around one in every 300 people who are white and not of Hispanic origin in the United States. Many people are unaware that they have it. Male patients and those who have other medical conditions, such as diabetes or liver disease, have an increased risk of experiencing complications. (1)

It’s possible that symptoms won’t show up in women until after they’ve gone through menopause. This is due to the fact that having periods has a tendency to lower iron levels in the blood. After menstruation finishes, levels can begin to rise again. (1)

Secondary Hemochromatosis

The accumulation of iron in the body as a result of another medical illness, such as erythropoietic hemochromatosis, can lead to the development of secondary hemochromatosis. Because the red blood cells are so fragile with this disease, they end up releasing an abnormally high amount of iron into the body. (2)

Additional danger signs for secondary hemochromatosis include the following:

  • alcohol dependency
  • diabetes
  • a family history of heart disease, or liver disease
  • frequent blood transfusions
  • Iron intake or vitamin C supplementation can increase the amount of iron the body absorbs

Hemochromatosis Evaluation and Diagnosis

A physician will:

  • Inquire about their symptoms.
  • Inquire about any dietary supplements you might be taking, as well as your own and your family’s medical history
  • do a thorough physical examination
  • suggest some tests

Because the symptoms might be confused with those of a wide variety of other disorders, diagnosis can be challenging. It is possible that more than one test will be required to confirm the diagnosis. (2)

Blood Testing

Iron levels can be determined by the use of a blood test known as a serum transferrin saturation (TS) test. A transferrin saturation test, or TS test, evaluates the amount of iron that is bound to the protein transferrin, which is responsible for carrying iron throughout your blood. (2)

A blood test can also provide some insight into the functioning of your liver.

Genetic Testing

An examination of a person’s DNA can reveal whether or not they have the genetic alterations that can cause hemochromatosis. Those who are thinking about starting a family would benefit from getting DNA testing if there is a history of hemochromatosis in their family. (2)

A healthcare expert may take a blood sample from you or use a swab to collect cells from your mouth in order to complete the test. (2)

Liver Biopsy

The majority of the iron that is stored in the body is found in the liver. Iron accumulation tends to cause harm to this organ rather early on in the process. (2)

A liver biopsy can reveal whether or not there is damage to the liver as well as whether or not there is an excess of iron in the liver. A sample of tissue will be taken from your liver by the doctor so that it may be analyzed in a laboratory. (2)

MRI Tests

Iron levels in the body can also be measured with other noninvasive techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. In place of a liver biopsy, a physician might suggest getting an MRI instead. (3)

How is the Condition of Hemochromatosis Treated?

There is treatment available for the management of excessive iron levels. (3)


Phlebotomy is the primary medical treatment that is used. This necessitates drawing blood and extracting iron from the body. A needle is inserted into a vein by a medical practitioner, and blood is collected in a bag, the same as it does during the process of giving blood. (3)

Initially, approximately 1 pint of blood will be drawn once or twice each week for testing purposes. If your iron levels return to normal, you may only require therapy every two to four months after that. (3)


Chelation is a further treatment option. This is an emerging therapy that can help regulate iron levels, but it is pricey and not a treatment option that is often considered first-line. (3)

You might receive the medications in pill form or via injection from a medical professional. Chelation helps your body get rid of extra iron by having it pass out in urine and stool. (3)

On the other hand, you should be aware that there is a possibility of experiencing adverse effects, such as discomfort at the injection site and symptoms similar to the flu. (3)

People who have heart issues or who have other conditions that make them unable to undergo phlebotomy might benefit from chelation. (3)

What Kinds of Health Problems Are Related to Hemochromatosis?

The organs that accumulate an excessive amount of iron are susceptible to developing complications. (3) An increased incidence of the following conditions may be seen in people with hemochromatosis:

  • damage to the adrenal glands
  • heart problems, including irregular heartbeats and heart failure
  • joint damage and pain, such as arthritis
  • liver damage, making a liver transplant necessary in some cases
  • pancreatic damage, leading to diabetes
  • problems with the reproductive system, such as erectile dysfunction and menstrual irregularities
  • skin discoloration

You can reduce your risk of developing difficulties by treating iron deficiency anemia early on, actively managing it, and monitoring your iron levels. (3)

Lifestyle Measures

The following are some of the self-care strategies that can help you manage your health if you have hemochromatosis:

  • having blood tests done on an annual basis to check the iron level
  • avoiding multivitamins, vitamin C pills, and iron supplements
  • avoid alcohol, which increases the risk of liver damage due to its toxic effects.
  • taking precautions to prevent the spread of illnesses, such as getting vaccinated on a regular basis and adhering to sound hygiene standards.
  • maintaining a record of iron levels in order to track changes
  • observing each and every one of the doctor’s recommendations
  • going to all of your scheduled visits
  • consult your physician if the symptoms get worse or if they change.

If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor about getting counseling. (3)

Hemochromatosis Diet

Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition in which the body absorbs an unhealthy amount of iron from the food it consumes. People who have hemochromatosis can lessen the severity of their symptoms and lower their chance of developing problems by making some adjustments to the way they eat. (3)

The average person’s daily iron absorption and loss amount to roughly 1 milligram (mg). Hemochromatosis patients have the ability to absorb up to 4 milligrams of iron per day. (3)

An unhealthy accumulation of iron in the organs can be harmful and lead to damage if left unchecked. Alterations to one’s diet, on the other hand, can help one keep their iron levels in a healthy range. (3)

In this article, we will cover the foods that a person who suffers from hemochromatosis may choose to eat or avoid eating. (3)

Dietary Factors

When treating hemochromatosis, the goal is to bring the quantity of iron in the body down to normal levels from an abnormally high level. (3)

In addition to consuming just meals that are low in iron, there are other considerations to take into account. For instance, the amount of iron that the body can absorb is influenced by certain aspects of the diet. (3)

Examples include:

  • The form of iron known as heme iron is more readily absorbed by the body compared to nonheme iron. Plant-based meals are the only ones that contain nonheme iron, but animal products like meat, poultry, fish, and seafood all have both heme and nonheme iron in them.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin improves the body’s ability to absorb nonheme iron.
  • Calcium: This mineral has been shown to inhibit the absorption of iron.

These dietary components, phytates, tannins, and polyphenols, reduce the amount of nonheme iron that is absorbed by the body.

In addition to recommending dietary adjustments, medical professionals may also treat hemochromatosis with medicine and therapeutic phlebotomy, a procedure in which blood is drawn from the patient and removed from their body. (3)

What Should Be Eaten

People who have hemochromatosis do not have to follow any specific dietary restrictions, but the following are some items that can be helpful for them:

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are essential components of any diet intended to promote health. They include a lot of different vitamins and minerals, both of which are essential for the body to work properly. (3)

Nonheme iron can be found in high concentrations in foods like spinach, mushrooms, and olives, amongst other fruits and vegetables. Because it is more difficult for the body to absorb nonheme iron, it is doubtful that they will have a substantial impact on iron levels. (3)

Those who suffer from hemochromatosis typically have elevated levels of oxidative stress, which can be harmful. Consuming meals rich in antioxidants can help to protect cells from damage caused by oxidation and can reverse the effects of oxidation. (3)

Antioxidants are found in high concentrations in many fruits and vegetables, including vitamin E and selenium. (3)

Phytochemicals, also known as plant compounds, are found in plants and are known to possess defensive characteristics. The following are some examples of phytochemicals:

  • lutein in dark leafy greens
  • tomatoes’ high lycopene content
  • beets and blueberries both contain anthocyanins.

Lean Meat and Protein

Although lean protein is necessary for a diet that is both healthy and well-balanced, many of the foods that contain lean protein also include dietary iron. (3)

People who have hemochromatosis do not need to completely abstain from animal protein; however, it is best to choose animal proteins that contain lower amounts of iron, such as fish and chicken, over iron-rich animal proteins, such as red meat. This is because people with hemochromatosis have a higher risk of developing iron overload. (3)

Grains, Legumes, Tree Nuts, and Seeds

Every type of grain, legume, seed, and nut contains phytic acid, also known as phytate, which inhibits the body’s ability to absorb iron. (3)

Consuming plant foods that are strong in phytates, such as beans, nuts, and grains in their entire form will result in less nonheme iron being absorbed by the body. Because of this, it has the potential to lower the amount of total iron found in the body. (3)

Coffee and Tea

Tannins are a type of polyphenol, which is a molecule found in plants. Both tea and coffee contain tannins. (3)

Tannins, which are found in tea and coffee, have been shown to inhibit iron absorption. People who have hemochromatosis have additional options for controlling their iron levels, including the consumption of certain beverages. (3)

Calcium-Rich Foods

Calcium has the ability to impede the absorption of iron in both its nonheme and heme forms. (3)

The following are some examples of foods that are rich in calcium:

  • Greek yogurt, milk cheese, tofu, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli.


A number of studies have shown that eating eggs can help block the body’s ability to absorb iron. (3)

Phosvitin, which is found in eggs, is a protein that binds to iron and blocks its absorption by the body. (3)

What Should Be Avoided

People who have hemochromatosis are typically given advice from medical professionals to steer clear of iron-fortified foods and supplements. The following are some examples of foods that should also be avoided:

Red Meat

Heme iron is abundant in nearly all types of red meat, including beef, lamb, and venison, amongst others. Heme can be found in lower concentrations in chicken and pork. (3)

People who have hemochromatosis should probably stay away from red meat as much as possible because the body readily absorbs heme iron. (3)

Consuming red meat can improve your body’s ability to absorb nonheme iron. It’s possible that lowering iron levels can be accomplished by consuming red meat alongside items that inhibit iron absorption. (3)

Uncooked Shellfish

There is a possibility of finding the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria in a variety of shellfish, including clams, mussels, and oysters. These bacteria have been linked to a potentially fatal sickness known as vibriosis. (3)

People who have hemochromatosis have an increased risk of becoming infected with vibriosis. Because of this, it is essential to cook any shellfish thoroughly in order to kill any bacteria that may be present. (3)

People can also lower their risk of infection by avoiding eating raw shellfish with open shells and by avoiding eating cooked shellfish with closed shells. Both of these practices can help people avoid being infected. (3)

Vitamin C

The body is able to absorb more nonheme iron when vitamin C is present. People who have hemochromatosis should steer clear of taking vitamin C supplements as a result of this. (3)

In most cases, the levels of vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables are insufficient to have a discernible impact on the amount of iron that is absorbed by the body. These foods also include a wide range of other essential nutrients, which are crucial to include in a diet for optimal health. (3)

Consuming vitamin C-rich foods or beverages will enhance iron absorption. in conjunction with iron-rich diets. Those who have hemochromatosis should keep this in mind when considering whether or not it is in their best interest to combine foods high in iron with foods high in vitamin C. (3)

People ought to consult a medical professional in order to determine the appropriate daily intake of vitamin C for themselves. (3)

Fortified Foods

Foods that have been enriched or fortified with vitamins and minerals have better nutrition. Numerous cereal goods have calcium, vitamin D, and iron added to them. Iron rich foods should be avoided by those who have hemochromatosis. (4)


The body produces chemicals that harm the liver after ingesting alcohol. Alcohol and iron can make oxidative stress worse. The effects of hemochromatosis on the body could be made worse by this oxidative stress. (4)

The body’s iron reserves are also increased by alcohol. A physician might advise a patient with hemochromatosis to decrease their alcohol use. (4)

How Much of This Condition Can Be Affected by A Person’s Diet?

Iron absorption can be affected by diet, although the impact on hemochromatosis is less obvious. It’s possible that persons with hemochromatosis don’t need to adjust their diet. (4)

When compared to traditional hemochromatosis treatments, dietary adjustments had only a tiny impact on iron levels, according to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). (4)

Medications and phlebotomy are far more successful at lowering iron levels than dietary changes, even if only a little amount is achieved. (4)

Even yet, the CDC and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) continue to recommend that hemochromatosis sufferers avoid:

  • high alcohol use
  • iron supplements
  • raw shellfish
  • vitamin C supplements


  1. https://www.verywellhealth.com/hemochromatosis-diet-4774139
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/hemochromatosis-diet
  3. https://www.singlecare.com/blog/hemochromatosis-diet/
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hemochromatosis-diet
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