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Hypothyroidism and Iron Levels
Anemia and Hemachromatosis

by Mary Shomon

Conditions related to iron levels in the blood are more common with hypothyroidism than in the average population, according to researchers.

Anemia

For example, iron-deficiency anemia (insufficient iron) is more common in people with hypothyroidism. Symptoms or signs of anemia include:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Pale appearance to the lining of lower eyelids
  • palpitations, fast or irregular heart beat.
  • faintness and breathlessness.
  • hair loss.
  • bruising that occurs without reason
  • dizziness
  • long or unusually heavy menstrual periods
Anemia is diagnosed using a comprehensive iron panel blood test.

In addition to your doctor's recommendations regarding treatment for anemia and any suggested iron supplementation, you can also consider the following recommendations:

  • Eat more foods that are good sources of iron. Concentrate on green, leafy vegetables, lean, red meat, beef liver, poultry, fish, wheat germ, oysters, dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals.
  • Help your body absorb iron better by eating foods high in vitamin C.
  • Red meat can supply iron, but also helps your body absorb iron from other foods.
  • Limit your use of tea, except herbal teas. The tannins in tea can inhibit iron absorption.
  • Avoid antacids, phosphates (found in soda, beer, ice cream, candy bars, etc.) and the food additive EDTA. These block iron absorption.
  • Increase dietary fiber to prevent constipation.
READ A FIRST PERSON STORY: For a first-person accounting of hypothyroidism and taking iron for anemia, and finding the right balance, see Kim Carmichael-Cox's article, "Iron: A Double-Edged Sword for Thyroid Patients Who May be Slightly Anemic." Kim, a writer with hypothyroidism, talks about her struggles to find the right balance of supplemental iron without disrupting her thyroid condition further.


WARNING FOR THOSE ON THYROID HORMONE REPLACEMENT AND TAKING IRON
Be careful when adding iron to your diet if you are hypothyroid, however, as taking iron within four hours of taking your thyroid hormone may interefere with the absorption for your thyroid hormone, and make it less effective, making you more hypothyroid.

WARNING FOR PREGNANT WOMEN WITH HYPOTHYROIDISM
Pregnant women need to be particularly careful, as most prenatal vitamins contain iron. You should take your prenatal vitamin, but plan to take it at least three to four hours apart from taking your thyroid hormone, or the iron in your vitamin may interfere with your body's absorption of proper amounts of thyroid hormone. For more ideas on having a healthy pregnancy with hypothyroidism, see: ThyroidDisease and Pregnancy.

Hemochromatosis

Another condition that is less common, but more frequently seen in people with hypothyroidism is hemochromatosis, an inherited disorder that results from excessive iron absorption from food. More common in those 40 to 60 years of age, and men are typically more symptomatic than women.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis include:
  • chronic fatigue
  • arthritis-like pain in joints, in particular, the middle two fingers
  • loss of libido (sex drive), impotence
  • early absence of menstrual periods
  • changes in skin color, yellowish, bronze, grey, olive
  • redness in the palms
  • abdominal pain
  • shortness of breath
  • heart arrhythmia
  • depression
  • elevated blood sugar
Hemachromatosis is not easy to diagnose, as it is not revealed in routine blood work. Doctors need to request specific tests to diagnose it, including the transferrin iron saturation percentage, and ferritin. Serum iron, which is a more common test used to evaluate iron levels, is not considered reliable for diagnosis of hemachromatosis.

Treatment for hemachromatosis is a doctor-supervised program of giving blood, known as phlebotomy.

For more information on iron in the diet, anemia, hemachromatosis, and other iron disorders, see:

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2003. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.