Iron Overload and Oxidative Stress

Written by Christopher Kelly

Sept. 21, 2015


Hi there, this is Chris from Nourish Balance Thrive. I thought I’d make this short video to explain some of the biochemistry investigation I've been doing recently on our high-level athletes. This particular example comes from a former Ironman who developed atrial fibrillation and had an ablation in 2014. He doesn't really have any symptoms to speak of, he’s just looking to make sure that he’s doing as well as it possibly could. He’s done quite a lot testing with me and the first thing we did was some blood work and a couple of things that popped out straightaway was his ferritin and serum iron which were elevated and I started to wonder about the possibility of iron overload. He went on to do a urinary organic acids test. This test is super cool. Obviously with the blood work you have to make a trip to LapCorp and get blood drawn, but with the urinary organic acids you don't have to do that and I can send you a test kit in the mail and then you collect some pee first the morning which you then freeze and send to the lab. A PDF report comes back to me electronically and I get you on the phone and we start talking about it.

There was one main area of concern I had for this particular result. You can see at the top of the page here markers number 28 and 29, that’s p-Hydroxyphenyllactate and 29 is 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine. These are super interesting markers for anybody that is interested in health and longevity. p-Hydroxyphenyllactate is a marker of cell turnover and when you see this elevated it means there's a higher-than-expected rate of cell turnover. If you were to do this test on a child, in fact I saw one of the weekend that belonged to a 12-year-old girl, and she also had an elevation of the p-Hydroxyphenyllactate. This is completely normal because she's growing. Now for the 50-year-old triathlete this is not normal, and something is going on here.

Below that there’s 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine, and if you remember back to biology, guanosine is one of the components of DNA. 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine is a breakdown product of DNA so oxidative stress is actually destroying this person's DNA and there's tons and tons of good evidence in the literature, if you’re the sort of person that likes to do research, then go look up 8-oxodG and you’ll see that it’s linked with cancer and diabetes and pretty much any chronic diseases you can think of. In the literature it seems like 5.0 is the number you're shooting for to be healthy, and for this guy, as you can see, is at 5.3 so something is going on here. A ton of oxidative stress.

Another marker that I thought was related and also very interesting was marker number 34 that shows an elevation of pyroglutamate. Pyroglutamate is a metabolite and a breakdown product that builds up in the urine sample when there is insufficient a glycine to make glutathione. This diagram here shows that the goal is to take the glutamate and the cysteine and combine it with glycine to make this really important endogenous antioxidant, glutathione. Endogenous just means inside your body--your body should be making this compound to balance out or to mitigate the harmful effects of the oxidative stress that we've already seen on the organic test and that's not happening for this guy. We really want the glutathione and instead we’re seeing the build up of pyroglutamate and I think the reason this is happening is because there is insufficient glycine available. Glycine is just an amino acid, and ok, where does glycine come from? It comes from foods like bone broth, skin and things that are rich in in connective tissue. I think glycine is going to work really well for this guy as a supplement until he figures out how to get more bone broth into his diet.

Finally I did an additional investigation to find out whether he really does have iron overload, and I think the answer is yes! The total iron binding capacity is very low which indicates iron overload (or haemochromatosis is sometimes known) and the percentage transferrin saturation--you can think of this marker is the number of seats on the iron bus that are occupied--and in this case the bus is full to overflowing which means there's lots and lots of iron. There's a very simple solution for this problem and that's to go give blood. You’d want to monitor this because you can have too much of a good thing and that could lead to other problems, but really the solution is pretty simple. Another thing that this guy can do, and I think he is going to do it, is the 23andMe genetic test. There's some mutations in the HFE gene that affect how efficiently we absorb iron. This is a really common genetic mutation, in fact it’s the most common genetic mutation in the US with up to 1 in 200 people affected. I think is an interesting gene and I’ve been doing some research and I hope do a podcast on this in the future. If you can imagine that maybe in years gone by it was an evolutionary advantage to be better at absorbing high and therefore making red blood cells. Maybe you were a warrior and got injured frequently and you needed to constantly be absorbing iron. Maybe now that's not an evolutionary advantage because males they never bleed and so it causes problems. Absolutely the iron overload here--think of a rusty nail--iron it’s a pro-oxidant and causes oxidative stress. Iron is also an essential nutrient and we would die if we didn't have it, but too much is absolutely a problem and could the cause the oxidative stress we’ve seen here in the organic acids.

I hope you found this interesting. Do let me know and maybe I’ll do some more of these videos.

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