Haemochromatosis: Men who have the Western world’s most common genetic disorder are more likely to develop dementia. Yikes!
Haemochromatosis is a genetic iron overload disorder. It is a hugely Irish disease. 1 in 5 of us carry the gene. And now there’s new research which says that if you have the disease, you are more likely to get dementia, particularly if it is left untreated.
This is according to a new study by researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Connecticut. The stats aren’t fun – in the study, 25 of the 1,294 men with the faulty genes went on to develop dementia, which was 83 per cent more common than for those without the faulty genes. This was due to a build-up of iron in key areas of the brain.
And if you are a man, it is more dangerous for you. Why? Because women are partially protected because they lose iron through menstruation and childbirth, although some younger women do develop the disease.
The study found no increase in dementia risk in women with haemochromatosis genes. So Irish men, we need to get you diagnosed, and on top of this condition.
Haemochromatosis: More Bad News
There’s more bad news for Irish men: Researchers found that men with the faulty genes are also more likely to develop liver cancer, arthritis, and frailty, compared to those without the faulty genes.
The stats aren’t fun – 25 of the 1,294 men with the faulty genes will go on to develop dementia, which was 83 per cent more common than for those without the faulty genes. This is due to a build-up of iron in key areas of the brain.
Haemochromatosis is known as the “Celtic curse” because it is particularly prevalent in Celtic bloodlines. Symptoms can include feeling tired all the time, muscle weakness and joint pains, weight loss, an inability to get or maintain an erection, and some women have irregular periods or absent periods. These symptoms usually come on between ages 30 and 60. It is often misdiagnosed as the signs of ageing.
Once diagnosed, the condition is easily treated by a process similar to donating blood several times a year, to lower iron levels.
Professor David Melzer, who leads the research group in Exeter said, “In the past, there was debate about whether having the haemochromatosis faulty genes caused excess disease. It is now clear that these genes cause high rates of liver cancer and increased rates of several diseases including dementia. We now urgently need clinical trials of early diagnosis and treatment for people with the haemochromatosis genes.”
Dr David Steffens, a co-author of the paper, noted: “This study adds to the list of modifiable factors that may point to prevention of dementia. If our results are replicated, it may become routine for clinicians to test for hemochromatosis in the evaluation of patients with memory complaints and in the screening of older asymptomatic patients.”
Neil McClements, Chief Executive of the charity Haemochromatosis UK, said: “This study furthers our understanding of the toxic effects of excess iron on the body. It’s important that families with genetic haemochromatosis get their relatives screened for the condition. Early diagnosis saves lives and improves quality of life, too.”
Also: if you are part of the huge Irish diaspora, get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms yourself. Irish genes are the greatest genes to have on board! Except… in the case of haemochromatosis.
For more information about getting tested, click here
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