Iron oxide — that’s the chemical term for rust. When rust hits your car, it looks old, and when it hits engine parts, they start falling apart. If your car is only a few years old, yet has noticeable rust, it appears to be an old car. Worse, it really is old, regardless of the year it was built, because it’s headed to the junkyard a lot sooner.
Iron is the main component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout our bodies. Having enough iron to provide this vital function is necessary for good health. Anemia occurs when the iron levels are too low to provide normal levels of hemoglobin. The body has to be prepared for occasions when blood loss occurs — iron levels drop with blood loss, as the body grabs available iron to replace the lost hemoglobin. Since iron is suddenly needed at those times, the body has a way of storing a certain amount of iron safely in a protein called “ferritin”. If you’ve been tested for iron deficiency or excess, you probably had your ferritin level checked. Ferritin binds iron and keeps it stored until needed to build hemoglobin. Because iron is so reactive, the body needs to bind the excess iron in ferritin. A high ferritin reading suggests that the body’s ferritin mechanism is overloading, and then excess iron may wind up in major organs such as the heart, pancreas, or liver, where its reactive properties can do significant, possibly permanent, damage to those organs.
Foods contain two forms of iron: “heme” and “nonheme”. Heme iron is blood-biased iron coming from animals, and is readily absorbed into our bodies. It is so readily absorbed that it can easily drive iron levels too high. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet often contains plenty of meat, especially red meat, which can quickly provide more iron than we need. Nonheme iron comes from plants, is harder to absorb, and doesn’t lead to such overdosing; we can eat significant portions of spinach, mushrooms, and olives — all high in iron — without overloading our bodies. This is yet another reason to eat a plant-based diet!
A radical outcome
You’ve probably heard the term “free radicals” and know that they are bad. Free radicals can be weaponized by the immune system to attack invaders, so they are not completely bad. They are a normal and necessary part of life, because life utilizes oxygen, but when in excess cause tremendous damage. Free radicals are essentially “pro-oxidants” — the opposite of antioxidants. Free radicals are unbalanced atoms that occur as a normal part of metabolism where oxidation occurs. These molecules are “hungry”, looking for an electron to balance them. They tend to steal that electron from some other molecule, making it unstable: this means free radicals create new free radicals — a chain reaction. This stealing causes damage if it happens to DNA or other parts of normal cells, and it leaves a new free radical in its wake. But pollutants in air, water, and food lead to many more free radicals than the body can counteract. Antioxidants work by providing the necessary electrons without creating new unstable and harmful molecules, and help to keep the body in balance.
Free iron — iron that is not bound in hemoglobin, ferritin, or other iron-binding proteins — is highly reactive. It is “hungry”, looking for electrons, so it is a free radical by definition. Free iron is so reactive, so dangerous, that excess will be grabbed by the liver and other major organs rather than be left in the bloodstream. However, this iron also causes damage in those organs. The only safe option is to keep the level of iron just low enough so that free iron is used by the body and is readily and quickly bound. In the absence of significant blood loss, the body manages its existing iron levels and does not need much more iron coming in. So long as ferritin levels are reasonable, you have no need to consume more iron. The Standard American is likely to be experiencing iron overload rather than iron deficiency.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are also caused by free iron. ROS are free radicals where the oxygen molecule is split into single oxygen atoms. In breaking apart, there aren’t enough electrons to satisfy both atoms, and this election deficiency causes them to search for replacements wherever they can find them. Iron also competes for electrons and can take electrons from stable oxygen compounds, creating ROS. This condition is called oxidative stress, where the ROS is roving around the body causing damage in its wake.
Studies show iron aging
The National Institutes of Health published a study where iron overload was screened, and associated shortened telomeres with elevated iron phenotype (those who exceeded transferrin saturation and ferritin thresholds). Their quote says it perfectly: “Excess iron deposition is associated with biomolecular oxidative damage and mimics physiologic changes that occur with aging and leads to age-related conditions.” A study in Nature Communications shows that high levels of iron in the blood reduce health and years of life. The research also notes that dietary high levels of iron-rich red meat has been linked to heart disease and other age-related conditions.
What are the best sources of antioxidants to neutralize your oxidative stress? Plants. What gives you a slow-absorbing source of iron that does not tend to overload your body? Plants. What are the best plants to eat? Unprocessed and raw, so that these valuable qualities of the plants are preserved.
Excessive iron comes readily from a meat diet, especially red meat. This iron leads to free radicals which speed aging. For the same reason that iron grabs oxygen to form iron oxide, it promotes oxidative stress in your body.
Plants don’t rust, and neither should you.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Free radicals accelerate aging tremendously and also increase the likelihood of most every disease. One of the biggest free radicals in our body is from iron. The key is low normal. Just the minimum to make red blood cells and no extra and for sure not a big storage of it. When you eat from the plant kingdom you do not form free radicals like you do when you eat animal products. The world has enough chemicals and toxins assaulting our cells from the outside so let us not make our diet add to that assault. You can get all the iron you need from plants — green plants, raw or living, is best. Do you think an elephant is anemic? What about a gazelle? If you want to live a long and good life, switching to a plant-based diet is a vital component. We have promoted this diet for over 35 years and have seen amazing results with our treatment and teaching programs which include a plant based diet.
If you would like help in your journey into health and longevity here are your options at Total Health Institute:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.