A Different Perspective on Iron


As we learned last week, too much or too little iron is not a good thing. (See the post here.) But the big “aha” moment comes in realizing the whole issue revolves around the loss of regulation of iron metabolism. The control center for iron metabolism is the liver. It’s the major site of iron storage, regulates iron traffic in and around the body, and is where the major proteins for iron metabolism are made, including ceruloplasmin, which is also important in copper metabolism. But rather than focusing on the cellular level, let’s keep focused on the big picture – like so many other health issues, it’s about liver health.

Iron-Loving Pathogens

When it comes to the liver, it never pays to ignore the role of parasites and pathogens. There are a lot of pathogens that disrupt iron metabolism, either to increase stores or deplete them. Most bacteria are iron scavengers because they require iron to live and multiply. The immune system withholds iron as a protective mechanism, but sometimes it comes down to the numbers – having a large amount of “iron eaters” will quickly make you anemic and suppress the immune system. Menstruating women tend to attract the fungal varieties that bog down the whole cleansing process because of damp conditions and fluctuating high levels of estrogen, which in turn can affect hormone regulation.

Liver flukes are such a big issue when it comes to stone formation and congested bile. They get in through food or contaminated water and block those all important liver pathways causing the bile to thicken and not flow as easily. You need that bile to flow – its acidity in the intestines is what kills the pathogens there. Interestingly, the goal of most anti-parasitic herbs is not actually to kill the parasites but to cleanse the bile so it can do it’s job of killing unwanted microorganisms. This is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach of treating illness by cleansing the bile.

A Traditional Chinese Medicine View

From a TCM perspective, the emotion involved in iron metabolism is anger. This is a symptom of “liver fire,” a TCM principle that can be best described as too much energy trapped in the liver. As anger increases, so do iron stores and vice versa. This may explain why men have higher iron levels, since they are naturally more aggressive with (hopefully) higher testosterone levels.

Women tend to be more anemic and fearful – the opposite of anger in TCM – until they “come into their own wisdom” during menopause and iron levels and anger rise, many times at the life issues they endured during their childhood and childbearing years. Combined with copper imbalance, passiveness and the tendency to please others while sacrificing themselves is seen commonly in childbearing women and men with low testosterone. Once copper and iron are balanced, you recognize your own strength and no longer feel so vulnerable and needing protection.


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