Home Health 707: The Iron Curse: Myths and Misconceptions About Iron and Iron Overload...

707: The Iron Curse: Myths and Misconceptions About Iron and Iron Overload With Dr. Christy Sutton

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Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode goes into what I think is a very important topic that is not well understood. And we’re talking about the iron curse and all the myths and misconceptions related to iron, iron deficiency, and iron overload. And like I said, this is not well researched, tested, or understood, especially outside of pregnancy. And as today’s guest explains, even within pregnancy, this is not well addressed. And she gives a lot of granular information on how to understand your own iron status and how to address it, even from home and even if you don’t have a supportive doctor.

And Dr. Christy Sutton is based in Dallas, Texas. And she’s interested in asking why health problems occur, finding the root causes, and then finding the safest and most effective solutions to common problems. And this is the foundation of her writing, her teaching, and her clinical practice. She has a lot of personal experience as well, including her own health struggles with Crohn’s and Celiac and her husband’s health problems with hereditary hemochromatosis and pituitary tumor induced Cushing’s disease, which has led her down the alternative health path, to find ways to avoid environmental and genetic landmines, which is a lot of what we dive into today and specific to iron and what we need to know about that for our children, for ourselves at various phases of life, including pre -pregnancy, pregnancy, menopause, post -menopause, for men and all of the nuance that goes into that, including mitigating factors. And we even walk through how to get both lab testing and genetic testing from home that can help you determine your own status because unfortunately a lot of these things are not yet common medical practice or care, but can have a tremendous influence on long -term health outcomes.

So very informative episode answers a lot of very specific questions. And even if you aren’t aware of having any of these specific issues, it’s worth a listen because she explains how these things are a lot more common than we think they are. Also easier to address if we understand where they’re coming from, but these kind of simple and inexpensive tests can make a huge difference to long-term health outcomes. So without further ado, let’s learn from Dr. Christy Sutton. Dr. Christy, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

Christy: Thank you for having me.

Katie: I’m really excited to delve into everything about iron and especially some of the myths and misconceptions. I know this is a topic that is not well understood yet and you are an expert in this. So I’m really excited to go deep. Before we jump into that though, I have a note from your bio that you are a soccer mom and not even just in the normal sense that people use that word in that you actually play soccer too. And I would love to hear if that’s been a lifelong thing or something you’ve gotten back into because I know the statistic is circulating that a mother’s fitness level has a direct impact on the health of her children. And I’ve recently become in the same way a track mom that both coaches track and does track as an adult. So I would love to hear what your journey was like.

Christy: Yeah, yeah. So I didn’t grow up playing soccer until in high school. And the reason for that is soccer wasn’t offered as an option to me as a child. My generation, soccer wasn’t as big of a deal. And for me, it was like, if it’s not offered at school, it’s probably not going to happen because my parents just couldn’t drive us around. So I started soccer in high school when it was offered. I loved it. I thought it was the funnest sport. I had taken me so long to get to this point. And then didn’t play in college because I wasn’t that great because I started in high school. And then as my daughter got back into soccer, I had some patients who were playing you know, what I call old lady soccer, which we’re in an over 30 league, but most of us realistically are way over 40, over 30, like 40s. I don’t think anybody actually is below 40. So, but it’s been fun. It’s been great.

I think it’s a good way to set an example to my child that, hey, my fitness is important too. It’s not just all about, you know, you and driving you around and what you do. You as a parent when you are a parent in the future, you need to exercise too. So, plus it’s a nice break.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s so important though, not just telling them but modeling so that they have permission when they’re parents to do those same things. And that’s awesome. I love that you have that and that your kids get to see that.

The topic I’m really excited to learn from you on today though is the topic of iron because I feel like this one is, like I said, there’s a lot of misconceptions. It seems like especially for women, as many women get told that they are anemic or have too low of iron and are put on iron supplements, especially around those pregnancy phases of life. And I know that there’s a lot more nuance than just, you need iron or you don’t. And there’s a lot that goes into this. And you literally wrote the book on this, on the iron curse. So I would love to just kind of start broad and establish some background on why you wrote the book and what led to your research in that area.

Christy: Yeah, so I got really interested in this topic. About five years ago, I wrote my first book, which is about genes. And I learned a lot from that book, from writing that book, because it introduced me to a lot of important genes and then what they can do to one’s health and what you can do about it. And while writing that book, I discovered that my husband had a hemochromatosis gene, which is a gene that makes you absorb more iron and can increase your risk for high iron. And I had already known from my husband’s labs that he would bring home from his primary care appointment that he had issues with high iron that were not being addressed. And so I would tell him, you need to donate blood. They were causing him to have high liver enzymes.

Long story short, we basically went through the process of getting him officially diagnosed with hemochromatosis, which is high iron. And I learned a lot through that process. I learned how hard it is for people to get correctly diagnosed. And I learned how with the laypersons up against, and I really kind of got to see all of the idiosyncrasies within the medical system and its official diagnosis.

My husband’s liver enzymes did come down from getting the iron lower, but what didn’t come down was some of his stress hormones, which we thought were high because of his high iron being stressful. And then we realized that he had a pituitary tumor that was causing him to have high cortisol. Turns out the pituitary gland gets highly damaged by high levels of iron. So there’s certain parts of the body that are… Very high risk for high iron. One of them is the liver. The iron likes to deposit in the liver and cause high liver enzymes, liver cancer, stuff like that.

It also likes to deposit in the pituitary gland and cause hormonal problems. It will cause a lot of infertility in men and women. You know, thyroid issues, fatigue, all these things, it’ll deposit in the pancreas and cause diabetes. You know, it really likes to go to the heart and specific areas. So anyways, from going through all of that, I learned a lot about the high iron piece. And then I really started looking very closely at the genes. And I’ve always looked closely at iron period because I personally have struggled with iron fish anemia because I have Crohn’s, celiac disease, menstruating female. I even have a gene that makes me more likely to have low iron. Which I discussed in the book.

And so, you know, I see a lot of iron issues and I see a lot of mismanagement, whether it’s high or low, and they’re both really bad. And they both have serious implications, much more serious than most people realize. And so my goal was to really kind of lay out, the book is largely about hemochromatosis, high iron, but I also have this huge section devoted to anemias and iron deficient anemia and how, not just what range you really need to be looking at and all the different causes, because there’s so many different causes, but also how important it is to make sure you have healthy iron levels, especially. Like in children and pregnant women, because there’s a ton of pregnant women that become low on iron and that can set their kids up for a lot of neurological problems, low IQ, autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, later in their life.

And then there’s a ton of kids that have iron deficient anemia because kids are not being watched closely either. And those kids are more likely to be diagnosed with ADD. And there’s a lot of kids that if they were just treated for iron deficient anemia properly. You know, they could theoretically maybe not even need some of these drugs that increase their dopamine and epinephrine because they would have enough iron to make dopamine and epinephrine naturally. So that’s kind of the gist of it.

Katie: Got it. So both extremes are obviously not ideal. I feel like we do hear a lot more about low iron, even though that’s like you’ve explained, not still super common and not tracked in children. It seems like mostly tracked, probably primarily in pregnant women, or at least that’s the only time I was tested for iron levels at all that I know of. Which one is actually more common and which one is potentially more dangerous, or are they both kind of equally dangerous at the extremes?

Christy: Yeah, so there’s a lot to untangle there. So many things to untangle there. They’re both very common and they’re both not diagnosed as well as they should be. I would say iron deficient anemia, it also depends on what stage one’s life is in or what sex you are. So like, females are going to be more likely to have low iron because of menstruation, pregnancy. And you use a huge amount of iron during pregnancy. And then, but women, as they get postmenopausal, they’re more likely to become high in iron, especially if they have that hemochromatosis gene. And so you can go from one extreme to the other.

Kids, typically kids tend to be more low in iron because picky eaters or they eat a lot of calcium, calcium binds to iron, it’s gonna make it harder to absorb iron. However, kids do have the hemochromatosis gene and they do develop hemochromatosis. My colleague’s daughter, we diagnosed her at the age of five with hemochromatosis, like we diagnosed her. And then she took her five-year-old daughter to the pediatrician where they confirmed the diagnosis. It was causing severe neurological problems. Her five-year-old had to go back to wearing diapers. She couldn’t walk down the road. So they then referred her confirmed pediatric hemochromatosis daughter to the pediatric hematologist who completely refused to treat her. And my colleague was forced to treat her herself using specific supplements that lower iron, but it’s still been a very difficult situation.

So, you know, I know I’m kind of getting off topic here, but one thing I did want to say about what your question was about. You mentioned how when you were pregnant, they checked your iron. Well, most people, they’re not getting their iron checked early enough in pregnancy.

You have probably heard that if you have low folic acid as soon as you’re pregnant, then… You’re more likely to have a child that’s going to have, cleft palate and like some of these neurological problems. And that’s why women are told to take not folic acid but methylfolate before they get pregnant because the day you’re conceived your mother needs to have plenty of that vitamin so your nervous system can develop properly.

Well, the same is basically true for iron. You need, as a fetus developing, plenty of iron, because, which means that your mother needs to have plenty of iron, nice, healthy iron stores, because iron carries oxygen. And if you don’t have enough iron, you’re not gonna be getting enough oxygen to your tissues, including your brain. And then if you’re not getting enough oxygen to your brain, then you’re not going to be able to have neurological development. There’s just not enough energy to do it.

And so unfortunately, most pregnant women, they don’t even go in to see the doctor until like the latter end of the first trimester. And at that point in time, you know, you could have been anemic leading up into pregnancy and during that first trimester. So that’s an issue. The other issue is that OB-GYNs, medical doctors, just basically everybody, they use a range that allows the iron to get much too low before they flag it as too low. And so then you end up with an issue where now you’re telling a pregnant woman that they’re low in iron and they are now low in iron during a time when it’s going to be really hard to dig themselves out of that hole because pregnant women go through a ton of iron.

Every pregnant patient I’ve ever had had to get on iron. Even the people who had these genes that make them, quote, you know, high in iron and absorb more iron, they still become low in iron. And so, you know, this is one of the issues.

The other issue is that doctors in general are not ordering comprehensive enough labs for iron, which they’re not really complicated. It’s basically what I call a full iron panel, which is just your ferritin, which is your stored iron. Your serum iron, iron saturation, TIBC and UIBC. You really need all of that, like with a CDC, to look at the red blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit. But most doctors, they’re not ordering that full panel. They’re maybe just ordering the serum iron, or if you’re lucky, they might also add the ferritin, but they’re not adding all of those. And that’s inexcusable to me because Those labs are not expensive or complicated.

Katie: That’s fascinating. And it sounds a little bit like sort of the experience I had with thyroid issues in the past, in that they would only test one or two with the most thyroid markers, and they would be in, quote, normal range, until I actually worked with a kind of functional medicine doctor who actually understood the ranges better and tested antibodies and a whole lot of other things as well. And also said, similar to what you’re saying, you don’t want to be on the low end of lab ranges before you start addressing a problem, because lab ranges are somewhat defined by people who are already having problems or who go in to get tested because they suspect they have problems. So that’s really fascinating to me.

What would ideal ranges look like? So if a woman was considering getting pregnant, what would like the optimal progression of when would she want to get tested? What would she be looking for in those ranges? And I know that there are people like you who can help people actually get more granular with this than most doctors might. So it sounds like maybe a supplemental plan with multiple practitioners could be ideal, especially in that phase of life. But what does ideal look like?

Christy: Yes, so I think that’s a really good point you made about the thyroid. I think there’s so many analogies between the thyroid and iron and how it’s being kind of mismanaged. And I like you, I have hypothyroidism. And if my TSH isn’t in a very narrow range, hair loss is a problem. So I totally get that. And I think it’s a really good analogy because that’s largely what’s going on with iron. So the answer to your question, which is a good question, what range is, is, you know. And it does depend.

So I like how you asked specifically for a woman that’s trying to get pregnant. A woman that’s trying to get pregnant, I would not want to see that ferritin any lower than 60. Ideally, not lower than 60, ideally not higher than 100. If it’s lower than 60, then the iron reserves are going to deplete very quickly. And that’s where you’re more likely to get into a dangerous low level before you really start to get a handle on it because pregnancy depletes iron so quickly. So between 60 and 100.

Now not higher than 100 because basically the research has shown that if you have a ferritin higher than 100, then you’re either inflamed or you have too much iron creating inflammation. But most ranges do allow, all ranges pretty much allow iron to go, ferritin to go over 100. The lower end for women is 125, even though the research shows it shouldn’t be any higher than 100.

And then the same thing for iron saturation. So iron saturation is another lab that, you know, I wouldn’t want to see that below basically 30%. A woman trying to get pregnant. But, the lab ranges allow it to go much lower than that, down into the teens. And then they allow it to go disturbingly high. So the lab range for iron saturation cuts off at 55. But, the actual diagnosis for hemochromatosis too high of iron starts, has a cutoff of 45%. So that’s a really interesting point because, like that’s not even me getting like nitpicky about a functional range. That’s just the lab range allowing things to go higher than really they should allow it. And why that is, I don’t know, because the hematologist will diagnose haemochromatosis with an iron saturation over 45 combined with a high ferritin.

So I know that, you know, I just went off on a tangent about high iron and you asked about low iron. But I think it’s just an interesting point about this whole lab range concept that really we need to revisit. Because like you said, who’s getting lab work? People that are ill. If you got a thousand people that were healthy, their lab ranges would have a different U-curve, bell curve, than a thousand people that are unhealthy. And most people that are getting labs are unhealthy people. And so they’re looking at all these labs and they’re saying, well, this is the median, this is the average. And it’s like the average for sick people. I don’t want to be an average sick person.

Katie: Yeah. Or even just, I don’t want to be in the normal range. I want to be optimal. And we haven’t, it doesn’t seem like in most areas, done the research to know what optimal is. We just know kind of like you said, the average is the normal, which is not what most of us are aiming for to begin with. And I like that you brought up the distinction of pregnant women are their own category that would need to be looked at differently. So it sounds like the ranges that would be ideal for a woman who’s pregnant or trying to become pregnant are not the ranges that someone in another phase of life would want to aim for.

So what does that look like as a difference for like children, for men, or I know that I’ve read a lot that women in the post menopausal phase tend to move more towards like lab ranges of men, or at least when it comes to iron, and that maybe this could be a possible correlation to why women’s risk of, for instance, heart disease goes up after menopause. I know there are many factors there, but what would a range look like for someone who’s not in the pregnancy or pre-pregnancy range look like?

Christy: Yeah. So, you know. Kids are kind of their own category. They kind of have. Totally different lab ranges that. For, ferritin are much lower. And for those, I think, you kind of more or less. I think they let the ferritin for kids go way too low, like in the teens. I personally wouldn’t want to see my child have a ferritin below 30 at any point in time, but they can’t get up above 75 really. You don’t necessarily want them to go up to 100.

For adults, they tend to develop higher levels of iron and ferritin in general because of that they’re not menstruating, not having kids. Females basically are now like men and that they are not menstruating or having kids, so their iron levels are going to be more neutral, higher. So, you know, we talked about that.

But as far as the main distinctive factor for a different range for different people is if you look at this is where it’s important to look at genes, like everybody needs to know if they have a hemochromatosis gene. If you have a hemochromatosis gene or two that’s increasing your risk for high iron, then you might need to allow for a lower ferritin, a lower iron saturation. Just to give you some more wiggle room so that you’re less likely to go high. And this is like the opposite story to a pregnant woman, where a pregnant woman needs to, you know, make sure they have nice robust iron stores because they’re about to get depleted with pregnancy. A postmenopausal female, a male, somebody with a hemochromatosis gene, they need to allow for their iron levels to maybe get a little bit lower to give them some wiggle room for it to go higher.

But it’s a complicated topic because there’s so many different factors. Like, you know, you could have a GI bleed that could make you low in iron. And yes, you’re a postmenopausal female, but you’re still low in iron because you’re bleeding somewhere. Or, you know, maybe you’re vegan or a vegetarian and you’re just not getting enough. It’s harder to absorb iron if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian because the iron in plants is a less absorbable form of iron called non-heme iron, whereas the iron that’s in animal products is part of that is a very absorbable type of iron called heme iron that you only find in animal products, so.

So, I’m going to go ahead and show you how to do that. Vegan and vegetarians, even if they eat a lot of spinach and iron-rich foods, those are not absorbable sources of iron. And so, you know, you have to look at the whole picture. Or for example, if somebody’s taking a proton pump inhibitor, they’re going to be more likely to not be able to absorb iron. If they’re really stressed out and they’re not making enough hydrochloric acid, they’re not going to be able to absorb iron. If they have celiac disease, undiagnosed celiac disease, or Crohn’s, or gastric bypass, these people are going to have a hard time absorbing iron. And then you might want to allow for them to go a little bit higher just to give them some wiggle room, but it’s going to be hard to get them up there.

Katie: That makes sense. And you’ve mentioned the genetic side. Is this something people can find out from an at-home genetic test like a 23andMe or a Nutrition Genome? And if so, what are the genes that they’re looking for? And I would guess there’s a difference between if they’re heterozygous and homozygous, but what should someone be aware of when they’re looking at the genes related to this?

Christy: Yeah, so I am most familiar with the 23andMe genetic test. And that test, some people, they don’t like it. And I don’t think any test is perfect. But it has been around for a while. It’s not going anywhere. And it’s pretty tested. So I have some issues with them. I don’t really care what company people use. But. You don’t know, I don’t know all of the different genes that every company offers, because I just can’t keep up with all of that. I’m very familiar with what 23andMe offers. And so 23andMe does sequence the genes for haemochromatosis. And I know that for sure, along with many other genes.

However, they give you genetic reports that say, if you’ve seen a health report from 23andMe, it’ll say something like, variant detected for haemochromatosis gene. Basically, then they minimize the risk and say, unlikely to develop hemochromatosis. That’s very misleading. And so I see this often where people, they don’t truly understand the significance of the health information that 23andMe is giving them because the interpretation that 23andMe is giving is very flawed.

So anybody that has one single hemochromatosis gene needs to have their iron checked very closely. Everybody needs to have their iron checked very closely. These are not complicated labs. It’s just a matter, they’re not a part of most doctors with their ordering. So that’s part of it.

Another part of it is 23andMe only looks at two hemochromatosis genes. There’s actually three hemochromatosis genes, so. And then there’s another gene that can actually cause low iron. And so, I have what I have created is I have this genetic detoxification report where you can go to 23andMe and you can download their raw data and then you can upload it to the geneticdetoxification.com and then that will give you that third haemochromatosis gene and then it’ll also give you that gene that causes low iron and then a bunch of other ones too.

But I always like to have both like the health reports from the direct to consumer company and then that. Additional reports. But the data is only as valuable as your interpretation of it. And that’s why it’s really important to find people that can help you interpret it and really weed through the idiosyncrasies.

Katie: That makes sense. And so this is like, I’m finding every area of health is very individualized and personalized, but I feel like we live actually in an amazing time for being able to have sort of more power over this ourselves, considering at least in my area, things like those labs that you’re mentioning are easy to get even without a doctor. You can go into like somewhere like a pro health and get them. And genetic information is now much more widely available. I mean, certainly it wasn’t when I was younger. I remember when they first sequenced the human genome. I remember that day. So we now have access to all this data. So I love that there are resources like you that help people actually understand and begin to interpret what to actually functionally do with that information to live a more healthy life.

What about for someone if they find out that they maybe have the genes that would lead to higher iron and or they do the testing and discover that their iron levels are too high. Like I would guess in the, if your iron is too low, it’s, there’s a pretty straightforward path of eating and taking things to increase your iron. If your iron’s already too high, what can be done about that? I like, I know for instance, at one point mine was high and I gave blood and that seemed to help. But what are the things that we can do if our iron levels are too high?

Christy: Yeah, that’s a good question. You might have the haemochromatosis gene is what I’m thinking. Do you? You don’t have to tell me.

Katie: Actually curious to check. I was going to try to find out, but I didn’t want to take it away from the podcast.

Christy: Yeah, check and find out because a female that develops high iron and childbearing years, very rare unless they have that haemochromatosis gene. And then, you know, if one does have a haemochromatosis gene, they need to make sure that they get their kids checked for the genes because kids can develop high iron too. So, but your question was, I’m sorry, what was the question again?

Katie: Like if someone discovers they have too high of iron levels, what can they do about it at that point? Because I would guess like if you find out you’re anemic, take iron, take liver. What are you doing if it’s already too high?

Christy: So if you find out your iron levels are too high, then, technically, you know, the next step would be go to your primary care doctor, hematologist. They’ll refer you to a hematologist because if you do have high levels of iron, then and then you have hemochromatosis, a hemochromatosis gene that is going to cause you to be chronically high in iron potentially for the rest of your life. This is not like a one-off, just fix it with the blood donation. This is like a serious health issue that if managed correctly is a non-issue, but if not managed correctly can destroy your liver, your heart, your brain, your gonads, your pituitary gland, your pancreas. Like it’s not a joke as far as what it does. It’s very pernicious in how many issues it can create.

My issue with saying, well, the next step is go to the primary care doctor, the hematologist. That is the next step. My issue is that I have time and again. Diagnosed people with hemochromatosis, hereditary hemochromatosis, diagnosed people with having the gene, their irons climbing, bad things are happening. They then go to their primary care doctor and they get totally given bad information. And the primary care doctor will say, this is not an issue. I’ve even had a patient go to a hematologist after lowering the iron. And the P-hematologist was like, you know, why are you here?

And so I think part of the issue is that a lot of medical doctors have, need to learn a little bit more about this topic and not just medical doctors, just the public and people in general. So that’s an important issue is we need to learn more about this so that we can start giving better information and diagnosing those people because the treatments are very easy.

The treatments are removing blood. That’s a great way to lower iron. But some point in time, you can only remove so much blood before you become low in red blood cells, low in hemoglobin, and then you have to wait until you can remove more blood.

And so there are other things that I have laid out, which I call the iron curse protocols, that in addition to diet, not overly consuming iron, specific things you can do diet-wise to decrease iron and decrease iron-induced damage. There are some specific nutritional supplements that we’ve seen are very effective at lowering iron, and they also can prevent iron-induced damage.

So, like for example, some of those things are curcumin, which is an extract from turmeric, that will bind iron and lower iron. It’s also a really good anti-inflammatory antioxidant, great for the liver, brain, heart, et cetera.

Quercetin is another good one. Quercetin can increase a chemical called hepsodin, which when you have higher levels of hepcidin, that will decrease iron absorption. And people that have the hemochromatosis gene where they absorb too much iron, their problem is that they don’t have enough hepsodin. Their liver doesn’t make as much hepsodin, just genetically they don’t make as much. And so doing things like taking quercetin can help to increase that hepcidin naturally so they absorb less iron.

There’s other things like berberine. So berberine, everybody’s talking about berberine because maybe it helps with weight loss and there’s some research that it might. It also research shows can lower blood sugar, which is a lot of people have blood sugar issues also, high iron in people. But it can actually also decrease iron absorption as well.

Silymarin, silymarin like the extract from milk thistle, that’s wonderful for the liver, which is also great for people with high iron because they tend to have liver issues, 200 times increased risk for liver cancer. But the silymarin also binds to iron, lowers iron. So, you know, that’s just part of, you know, I go through many other things as far as options. And ultimately, there’s pros and cons to all of these things. And you have to kind of figure out and create a personalized health plan based on what does that person need. But there’s the, I just like to give a lot of options and educate people about them so they can say, okay, this checks a lot of boxes for me. So I’m going to try that, that type of thing.

Katie: Well, and I love that about your approach because I say often on this podcast that at the end of the day, we are each our own primary healthcare provider. And that while it’s incredibly beneficial to work with practitioners who have specific knowledge and can help us in a particular thing that we’re working on, at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with us. And I think we’re seeing this really cool kind of almost grassroots movement of people who are doing the work to get educated and understand the things that no doctor can completely understand at the level you can about your own body, your symptoms, your genes, your own reactions to things and who are willing to take responsibility for their own health and for their children’s health. And then we have practitioners like you who have this very specific knowledge that can help people even further advance on that path. So I’m very excited for where we are at this time and place to be able to access that data and to have that knowledge and to be able to make informed choices based on it.

I’m curious if for people who have maybe never done the testing, it sounds like that’s a good baseline recommendation in general for us to all get tested, to know our genes. I think that’s hugely beneficial. Are there any conditions, risk factors or symptoms that make people more or less likely to have either high or low iron to be aware of that would make it especially important to get that testing done really quickly?

Christy: Well, like if you have a family member that has had high iron, then you definitely, I personally think everybody just needs to get these genes tests. There’s a handful of genes, the haemochromatosis gene, the Alzheimer’s gene, the celiac genes, you know, a handful of other ones that I personally just think everybody should do. And the reason for that is because if you know about them early, then there are steps you can take to prevent these serious, potentially life-threatening, altering diseases.

And so, yeah, I just think everybody should do just for that information. For example, the haemochromatosis genes like, if you have a family history where people know they have hemochromatosis, obviously get tested. That’s not the current medical guideline. Like when my husband got diagnosed with hemochromatosis, hereditary hemochromatosis. First of all, they said, you know, you shouldn’t even have hemochromatosis based on your genes because you only have the one gene, which there’s this myth that if you only have one gene you’re not going to get hemochromatosis, but that’s a total myth.

But secondly, they also didn’t say, hey, and you know, you should get your kid checked to make sure that she doesn’t have a problem. So she does have the gene and at one point in time her ferritin stored iron did pop up and it’s fine now. But the only reason that we know she has the gene is because I ran it on her, got her 23andMe, and the only reason that we knew her ferritin was because I was checking it or telling the pediatrician to check it. I told the pediatrician she has the gene. That didn’t mean that they said, oh, we need to check these labs. I still have to tell them to check the labs. Like, you know, the connections are not there yet. Hopefully they will be in the future. So that’s an example about haemochromatosis.

The problem is most people don’t know that they have haemochromatosis. And so they, you know, you just don’t know. Now. You don’t know you have haemochromatosis, you’re not going to be able to tell your family members and they’re not going to know.

As far as low iron goes, you know, it kind of, one of my biggest pet peeves is just seeing so many people that, especially children, that know, they can’t focus. They’re not doing well in school. They’re on stimulants to help them focus. And the doctors are putting them on these drugs before just running through our labs. And a lot of times these kids, they have low iron, low vitamin D. You know, sometimes they even have low thyroid. Like I’ve never seen a pediatric child have perfect labs. But I’m also ordering what I consider to be pretty routine, but by modern medical standards, thorough labs. And so I just, there’s, every kid has issues more or less. They just, they do, they’re humans and they’re growing up in a world that’s, you know, nutrient devoid and sedentary and filled with problems. So, you know, everybody needs to know if they have the hemochromatosis gene, everybody needs to get the labs because even if they don’t have hemochromatosis, they could have low iron and either way it’s bad.

Everybody needs to know if they have the Alzheimer’s gene, even kids, here’s why. Kids that have the Alzheimer’s gene need to not be put in high risk concussion sports. And the reason for that is because if you have one or two Alzheimer’s genes, you are less likely to be able to heal up from a concussion. And if you have a concussion, you are less likely to be able to heal up from a concussion. While you’re still healing up from another concussion, it makes that second concussion much worse. And then if you have another concussion before you feel healed up from that second concussion, you might never heal up from that third concussion. Like your brain just has a hard time. So we know that not just kids, but anybody with these Alzheimer genes is less likely to be able to heal up from concussions. And concussions increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. So kids need to know, kids don’t need to know they have the Alzheimer’s gene. Parents need to know if their kids have this gene, because that is an important piece of information when you’re deciding what sports to put your kids in.

If my daughter had Alzheimer’s gene, I wouldn’t put her in soccer. I love the sport, I wouldn’t. Number one risk for concussions for females. She’d be doing golf or tennis or whatever. She wouldn’t know any different because I would have never put her in soccer.

We need to know about the celiac genes. There’s so many people with undiagnosed celiac disease. I’m kind of going off topic here about iron. These are important genes and celiac disease causes low iron all the time. You know, oftentimes people can’t get their iron levels up and they’re doing all this stuff, they’re even getting iron infusions that have a lot of side effects, a lot of oxidative stress type issues and they can’t get their iron levels up because they have undiagnosed celiac disease. So when we didn’t know this in kids, kids that have celiac disease, they might have no digestive issues, they might have some digestive issues. They might just get type 1 diabetes because that gene can cause type 1 diabetes too. I see it all the time.

And it’s just one of those things that if we know we have the genes and we can really screen these kids closely, not just kids but adults, you can change somebody’s health so much more if you do something when they’re a child versus when they’re older. It’s never too late. But it’s kind of like starting a savings account when they’re born versus when they’re like 70. Find out somebody has Alzheimer’s gene, hemochromatosis gene, celiac gene when they’re 70. You can still make some good changes. Find it out when they’re like a kid and you could potentially change the trajectory of their life in ways that you could not fathom.

Katie: Yeah, well, and especially with this, like I said, being so widely available, it’s something I’ve done with all of my kids when they were young. And so now I’m curious to go back and look at all these things for them as well.

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But I think it also goes back to that idea of being our own primary healthcare provider now that we can access this data at such early ages, especially for our kids. Because to your point, it’s a well-established problem and one still without a solution that something may show up very strongly in the research and still take decades to get into actual common medical practice. And so in some ways, we as the parents do have to kind of lead this information and lead these changes because the medical system is not, like you said, routinely screening kits for these things. But we have access to that data and it’s even now very affordable and it’s not invasive. The genetic test at least is often a mouth swab that can be done even, I’ve done it on my babies before. So this is data we actually have pretty easily available now, which is really exciting.

I’m curious if there are any like cautionary sort of best and worst foods, practices, lifestyle factors, etc, when it comes to either high or low iron. Because you mentioned iron infusions, for example, can have side effects. I know I’ve also at least heard anecdotally that certain iron supplements can be worse than others or that there are some that are more absorbable and potentially less problematic. Are there any guidelines for that?

Christy: Yeah, so well, as far as iron supplements go, first of all, I think if somebody’s struggling with a low iron situation and they’re not eating animal protein, especially like beef, then they’re kind of fighting a rising tide. I personally think diet needs to be our first line of defense. And if your body is horribly malnourished and you’re not getting enough iron and you’re not eating any meat, then I would suggest really think about that in terms of is that the best decision for your health.

As far as nutritional supplements go, iron, it’s so interesting. If you go to the health foods, not the health foods store, but the drug store like Walgreens or whatever, every iron supplement they have is ferrous sulfate, ferrous sulfate. If a doctor prescribes you iron nine times out of 10, they’re going to give you ferrous sulfate. Ferrous sulfate is not very absorbable and it is more likely to cause issues like constipation and stomach pain. Not to say that other irons can’t. This is one reason you want to always take iron with food. But one reason ferrous sulfate causes so much constipation is because it’s not being absorbed and it’s getting bound up in the digestive system and it’s creating constipation. So it’s not being absorbed, it’s creating constipation. People don’t want to take it because they don’t feel good and it’s not working. But that is the most common supplement recommended for some reason. I’m not sure why.

I tend to like more ferrous peptonate, which is much more absorbable, animal-based iron supplements because again, the animal-based iron is more absorbable. You can do other little things like take vitamin C with the iron to help absorb it more. Even vitamin D has been shown to help iron absorption. So some of these other little things. Some people think cooking in a cast iron pan will increase iron levels. It’s minimal because the type of iron that is in the cast iron pan is not the absorbable type of iron. I haven’t found it to be a huge issue as far as making iron levels higher in general. But I suppose if somebody has really high iron, cooking everything in a cast iron pan isn’t the best idea. I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal. And my concern is that, you know, a lot of people, if they’re not gonna use cast iron and what are they gonna use? Please don’t use Teflon or like, you know, a lot of the non-stick stuff.

So as far as the iron infusions go, Iron infusions do cause a lot of oxidative stress. Oftentimes, and they will increase iron, but they… They bypass the body’s important iron regulating mechanisms because generally, you know, the way we’re designed is to consume iron through our mouth and then it goes into our stomach and our intestines where it gets absorbed. And the body knows that iron can be very hazardous to, you know, create a lot of oxidative stress and inflammation and be very reactive. Body knows that, but it also knows we need iron. So, you know, we’ve kind of like created a piece like we need you, but we’re also going to protect ourselves from you. And it can only do that if you absorb the iron through the digestive tract, because whenever you absorb iron through the digestive tract, it takes that iron and it binds it to a chaperone protein called transferrin. And that chaperone protein makes sure that iron doesn’t go out into the blood and just willy-nilly create iron issues. That chaperone protein binds iron and says, I’m going to take you to where you’re needed. You don’t just get to go wherever you want to go.

That mechanism only happens if you consume iron through your diet. If you bypass your digestive system and you get an iron infusion. It will increase your iron levels. But you’re not gonna have those mechanisms to prevent the iron from going out and there’s no chaperones at that point in time. The iron can just go create issues. So it creates a lot of issues. If you do need iron infusions, then first and foremost, make sure you have plenty of antioxidants, lots of vitamin C, glutathione, vitamin E, these are all been shown to help prevent iron induced damage, period, including with an iron infusion.

But also make sure you’re getting to the root of why you’re low in iron. It’s, you know, this is the most important question. Why are you low in iron? Why are you high in iron? That’s the piece that’s missing for most. Most people. That’s what I see. Okay, you have chronic low iron. Why? Can we fix it? If so, how? We need to fix the why. We need to get your iron levels up. But if we don’t fix the why, this is, the battle’s never gonna end. It’s gonna just go on and on. And then that’s where you get these chronic infusions or chronically having to take iron forever. Do you have periods that are way too heavy? That’ll make you low on iron. Are you not absorbing iron? That’ll make you low on iron. Do you have a GI bleed? It’s gonna be hard to get high in iron, you know?

Or if you have high iron, you know, it’s a disservice to somebody to say, oh, you have high iron, just go donate blood, because you’re not helping them connect the dots that I’m not finding out why this is happening. And if I do have a gene that’s causing this to happen, then I’m allowing potentially, you know, future serious health problems because nobody asked why.

Katie: That’s such a good point. And I think this again shows up in so many areas of medicine and health and wellness. And it is easy, especially if you’re having acute symptoms, to want to treat the acute problem that you see. But it seems like over and over getting to that actually the root cause not only helps with longer term outcomes, but probably is going to have crossover into other areas of health as well because nothing is existing in a silo or a vacuum and it’s also connected that it seems like you end up with much better results and just more power over your own system and understanding if you’re able to get to the root cause.

And it sounds like I know you have programs specific to that. Like I said, in the beginning, you have a whole book about this. But also I know on your website, you have a lot more specific information as well. So can you just speak briefly about the different options you have for people who may be still a little confused or trying to figure out their own status in some of these areas?

Christy: Yeah, for sure. So I have my books, which The Iron Curse is coming out soon. That’s all about iron. And then my first book, the Genetic Testing: Defining Your Path to a Personalized Health Plan. Which goes through a lot of different genes, environmental things that can affect helping those genes not create health problems. There’s a lot in that. And then, I have some educational workshops to really kind of help people put together a lot of information in an easy to digest but meaningful manner that’s really organized for not just the clinician but also the layperson.

And so I have The Iron Curse book has a workshop that mirrors the book and that’s a lot of information and it goes through The Iron Curse book, but it has some additional information just because it’s a workshop, video workshop rather than a book.

And then I have a workshop on gut health, which talks about celiac disease and SIBO and leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease. And then I workshop on methylation and MTHFR and then I have one on brain health, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia and one coming up on age-related macular degeneration. And then I’ll have another one coming up on concussions and heart health.

So, I call it lab genomics basically where you’re looking at the labs and you’re looking at the genes because I don’t think really either of them are valuable. They’re both valuable, but if you put them together, they’re much more valuable than alone. So, lab or genomics is what I call it. And so, look at the labs, the genes, clinical pearls, clinical symptoms, just what you can do to identify genetic landmines and avoid them basically is how I put it. So, those are the big things. And then I have that genetic detoxification report, which gives a little bit more information about genes that are not necessarily covered in like a 23andMe health reports. And then, so yeah, that’s kind of the gist of it.

Katie: And I will put links to all of those for you guys listening in the show notes that wellnessmama.com. You can always find those there. For people who are trying to work through some specifics, do you work one-on-one with people as well? Or I know that these courses give you a ton of information to be able to really pinpoint on your own, but do you also consult with people if they have more specific questions?

Christy: Yes, yes. Yeah, it’s hard to create a personalized health plan if you don’t, you know, work with an individual person. The workshops are really helpful because you learn so much. But there’s nothing like having a clinician really just focus on you for allotted amount of time. You can just sort, you know, really cut to the chase very quickly.

Katie: I’ll put links to where people can find you as well. And there’s a few questions I love to ask toward the end of interviews. The first being very self-serving, if there’s a book or number of books that have had a profound impact on you, and if so, what they are and why.

Christy: Yeah, for sure. So, Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life by Russell Blaylock is a great book. He was a neurosurgeon and taught neurosurgery at University of Mississippi. He wrote that book and then he wrote another book called Excitotoxins. It’s really good. He focuses really, his focus is on neurotoxins like mercury, lead, pesticides, all these chemicals, aspartame, MSG, all these chemicals that are toxic to our brains but unfortunately somewhat ubiquitous in our environment.

And he talks a lot about how important it is to make sure you have lots of antioxidants to protect yourself from these toxins, which It’s analogous to this whole concept of high iron. Iron is something we need, but if you have too much iron, it’s toxic and it creates all this inflammation and depletes your antioxidants, which that creates a lot of issues. So that’s a wonderful book.

And it’s particularly meaningful to me today because last week my husband had neurosurgery. He had for the second time the pituitary tumor removed. Hopefully we got it all out. And when he was in the hospital recovering, you know, I looked at the menu in the hospital and he could eat whatever he wanted. A lot of the menu, it said like sugar-free popsicle, sugar-free jello, and they didn’t have the ingredients on there, which I think is a problem for a hospital to not have ingredients on the food they’re giving people. But I guarantee you those sugar-free substances, foods, quote unquote, had aspartame in them.

Because anytime you see sugar-free. Well, it’s going to be sweet, but they’re going to put aspartame in there so that it doesn’t have calories and not sugar. So aspartame is a neurotoxin that destroys your brain. So the, it was like horrific to me to think that patients who just had brain surgery. Can at the hospital be given aspartame? Which is going to just create all this damage. They already have this really fragile brain and now we’re gonna just throw all this aspartame at it. So that was horrific to me. And I thought a lot about Russell Blaylock and how that probably just drove him crazy too. Cause I think he’s really tried to like make a difference in this world in that regard and has met so much opposition that he doesn’t deserve. Like so many people that are deserving opposition. It’s not because what they’re saying isn’t research-based or correct. It’s because it goes against the scientific norms. But who cares about what the scientific norms are if they’re wrong?

Like with my book, you know, I’m throwing a lot of scientific norms at the wayside and saying, hey, I don’t care if they say you can only, you aren’t going to get hemorrhagic chromatosis with one gene. I see it all the time. This whole idea that you can be a carrier and have one gene and not get it. That’s a myth. You know, I’m gonna get some slack for it, but I can deal with it.

Katie: Yeah, I think that touches again on that problem of research not getting to medical practice fast enough. I had a similar experience 10 years ago with a family member who had an appendix rupture, was in the hospital, had C. Diff and flesh-eating bacteria, and they decided his albumin was low. And we’re trying to give him milkshakes three times a day to get his albumin ‘up. And these actually had sugar in them. And I’m like, this person has a flesh-eating bacteria and C. Diff going on, and you’re going to throw sugar on that fire. But it’s the accepted dietary menu there. And so I think there’s obviously lots of room for improvement, and hopefully we’ll start to see some of that. But those are great book recommendations. I’ll link to those in the show notes as well. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to the topic of iron or unrelated life advice that you have found helpful?

Christy: So you, I think you really touched on this idea that like we live in a very unique time where the lay person has access to medical information, genetic testing, lab tests they order on themselves, that they maybe can’t get or don’t have to get through their medical doctor. And so that’s empowering a lot of people, but there’s also a lot of confusion there too, because it’s like, okay, we have this information, but what do we do with it?

So I think it’s good. I think that the lay people are going to be driving a lot of progress, medical progress, which I call it a bottom up progress rather than a top down, rather than it coming from like, you know, the medical bodies saying this is what’s best scientifically proven. It’s really like, what they’re saying is the norms and it just takes time to change those norms. There’s a lot of reasons they have those norms that are maybe not in the best interest of, you know, the health.

And so this bottom up movement is people are going to have to get that information and they’re going to have to really kind of have autonomy over their health. And they’re going to have to work for it. And, you know, there are no shortcuts to health, you know, health is a long-term, daily, making good decisions daily, you know, exercise, eat right, you know, there are no true shortcuts. In the end, they all end up backfiring.

If you truly want to be healthy, you have to be an advocate for yourself because the current medical system is not designed, it’s not a healthcare medical system, it’s very much a disease care medical system, and you need to be autonomous and have, you know, agency over your health and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know, I was so afraid to ask questions when my husband was first getting diagnosed with hemochromatosis, and I went through that process of him having hemochromatosis and the pituitary tumor, and by the end of it, I realized how the doctors, that we walked through that process with, they didn’t know as much as I expected and I knew more than I expected really relative to the whole situation. That was a confidence building exercise, but it took me living through it to kind of see that. So, you know. Be an advocate for your health.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s so important too and a perfect place to wrap up. I think it really at the end of the day, like you said, the things that are within our own power are those foundational habits. And those are the things that are not glamorous or fun and often they’re overlooked because they’re simple. But those are the things that make the biggest difference in the long run when we can do them consistently.

And I’m also very hopeful because to your point, I see moms really driving this charge and leading this change because the end of the day, no one will care about our kids’ health more than we do. No one hopefully cares about our own health more than we do. And I see so many moms doing amazing research and getting this knowledge and then taking action on it to really change the trajectory for their families. So I’m very grateful every day that I get to speak to so many moms and that there’s this incredible community growing of moms who are really stepping into that and making the changes that make such a big impact, including you and including you in the practitioner space as well.

So thank you so much for the work that you do. I definitely learned a lot in this episode and I think you’re bringing light to such an important, very important issue. And so thank you so much for sharing today.

Christy: Thank you for having me.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.