Does my elderly parent have an iron imbalance?

Iron imbalances — either too much or too little — in the elderly can cause numerous problems. While many may assume that these imbalances involve a deficiency, it’s more likely in Westernized societies that the imbalance will involve too much iron.

Iron is important to the body because it is an essential part of the protein that transports oxygen in the body. About two-thirds of the body’s iron supply comes from Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Iron is also found in myoglobin, the protein responsible for supplying oxygen to the muscles and also the enzymes required for certain biochemical reactions.

Iron is an essential part of the proteins that transport oxygen in the body. Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells, accounts for about two-thirds of the body’s iron supply. Smaller amounts are found in myoglobin, the protein that supplies oxygen to muscles, and in enzymes needed for various biochemical reactions.

Excess iron

According to a New York Times article, one person in 250 inherits a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis that increases iron absorption and results in organ damage due to a buildup of stored iron, often in mid-life or later. Studies have shown that too much iron can also be a risk factor in diabetes, heart attack and cancer — especially in the elderly.

Too much iron clearly has its drawbacks, but too little iron can also be detrimental.

Iron deficiency

Deficiency in iron can cause numerous symptoms: fatigue and weakness, increased risk of infections, brittle hair and nails, dizziness, heart palpitations and sensitivity to cold.

Getting proper iron absorption

Livestrong provides several foods that aid in the absorption of iron.

  • Glycine is an amino acid. Foods rich in Glycine include including beans, brown rice bran, eggs, fish, nuts, soy and whole grains.
  • Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamin A increases iron absorption in humans when eating rice, wheat and corn, grains that contain phytates.

Warnings with iron supplements

Iron supplementation should be monitored by a physician. Iron imbalance can often be treated through diet. The body cannot get rid of too much stored iron without bleeding. If this is the case, treatments, such as a phlebotomy, may be necessary (of course it’s always best to consult your doctor with any questions and/or concerns). Without these measures the excess iron finds its way to the liver, heart and pancreas where it can contribute to cirrhosis, liver cancer, cardiac arrhythmia and diabetes.

In addition the New York Times article cited that high levels of iron have been discovered in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and Lou Gehrig’s disease, although this may also be an effect of brain disease rather than a cause.

Encompass can help

Encompass Senior Solutions currently serving Omaha, Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa provides seniors and their families a complete understanding of the options with facing an elderly person living with an iron disorder. Our professional staff can help properly implement the necessary lifestyle changes that will ensure the best quality of life for your aging loved ones.

All Encompass services are directed by registered nurses or licensed clinical social workers with no long-term contracts. Contact us today.

“Encompass Senior Solutions solves the problems families face in finding home health care providers they can trust. Providers who will focus on strategies that keep parents in their homes. To learn more about our health care services, visit http://www.encompass-home-health-care.com.”