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November 1970

Iron Enrichment: One's Food, Another's Poison

Arch Intern Med. 1970;126(5):911-913. doi:10.1001/archinte.1970.00310110181034

Iron is biologically precious and our bodies husband it with extraordinary economy. Unlike other nutrient metals, unneeded iron cannot be excreted, at least not in considerable amounts, and any excess must be stored in various tissues. Lacking the usual excretory path, the control of iron metabolism resides in the ability of the gut to refrain from absorbing available dietary iron not needed by the body. This unique system contains a unique biological trap. The mechanism for rejecting unneeded iron can get out of order, so that iron in the diet is abnormally absorbed and necessarily put into storage. Injury of the storage organs results, and such patients develop cirrhosis, diabetes, heart failure, impotence, sterility, and pigmentation of the skin. When hemochromatosis is not treated, the patient's average life span after diagnosis is five years.1

Hemochromatosis seems to be a rare disease, less common in women than men. The lower

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