Friday, January 8, 2016

Ancient myths and modern problems

...When you walked into the room I knew you for what you are, the hair rose on the back of my neck as I picked up my shield and held it over my heart.
Wood, bronze and leather protect me from the cold, cold iron...”

In fairy tales and modern fiction iron has always been described as dangerous to fairies. Where does this tradition come from?  Possibly from the "Irish Disease". Also know as "The Celtic Curse, hemochromatosis deposits iron in the heart, joints, pancreas, liver, and pituitary gland causing the body to “rust” from the inside out.

If you are of Scots, Irish or British descent you are more likely to carry the gene for hemochromatosis.

It is thought that the mutation originally occurred in the area of Ireland around 40,000 years ago to enable an individual to over absorb iron “to compensate for an iron poor diet.” With our modern iron rich diet we no longer need this trait but it is still active in an unlucky group.

Left untreated hemochromatosis can lead to early menopause, infertility, diabetes, heart failure, cirrhosis, primary liver cancer and death.

The treatment, not a cure, for this disease also goes back to primitive times and methods - Blood Letting, also known as phlebotomy. Initially up to a pint of blood, once or twice a week is removed. This encourages the formation of new red blood cells which draw excess iron from the body. After a period of time, sometimes years, this will decrease the amount of iron stored in the tissues and the treatment can be administered 3 or 4 times a year.

Hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disease in the United States and though easily treated often goes undiagnosed. An estimated 33.5 million people are effected with 32 million as “silent carriers” . 1.5 million may have a double mutation if both their parents carry the gene putting them at very high risk.

In spite of inexpensive tests and a relatively easy treatment many people go undiagnosed. At one time doctors thought of hemochromatosis as a disease of old, white men but it is now recognized that people younger than 30 years of age and of many different genetic backgrounds can be vulnerable. Due to their training, you may have to educate you doctor. They may be reluctant to administer the needed tests and not take your requests seriously. If so, there is a mail order test for $125 that will allow you to do an initial screening at home.

Symptoms for hemochromatosis can be broad and confusing from elevated liver enzymes, cirrhosis, tender swollen joints, heart problems, changes in skin pigmentation (turning bronze without going to the beach), depression, increase in blood glucose levels, a swollen stomach or a heavy feeling (mostly on the right side of the belly), redness in the palms of the hands, an enlarged spleen, chronic fatigue and anemia.
Getting your doctor to agree to testing if you are anemic can be very difficult. They see low iron levels in the blood without exploring the possibility that there is a excess of iron stored in the tissue or organs. Adding an iron supplement will not solve the problem but can lead to more damage.

If you are of Irish decent it may be even more difficult because people remember that “the Irish have a drinking problem” and liver damage is one of the symptoms of hemochromatosis.

To combat this ancient disease is an easy process. To get diagnosis and treatment is difficult. Do not give up and fall victim to the “Curse of the Celts”.


I have an acquaintance of Irish descent who has been under treatment for hemochromatosis for many years. He is able to lead a normal, productive life.

Please refer to for more information on the home testing kit.

No comments:

Post a Comment