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Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer

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For some, it’s hard to imagine starting the day without a bowl of cereal. However, you can overdo cereal and the consequences can be disastrous. Fifty one-year-old Chris Kirk, vicious testosterone from Upper Beeding near Brighton, paid a heavy price for his love of cereal.

The time-strapped dad would often have a quick bowl of cereal on days when he couldn’t fit in an evening meal or lunch break.

Little did he know that this shortcut was taking its toll on his body. Chris was overdosing on iron and seriously jeopardising his health.

Averaging around two bowls of cornflakes each day, Chris began feeling unwell, and a frustrating and uncomfortable five-year search for answers ensued, with home-healthcare company Medichecks finally helping with a diagnosis.

The 51-year-old explained: “I began getting really itchy hands and feet, couldn’t sleep, had low energy levels and because I’d recently given up smoking, I’d gained some weight. So, my doctor ran a routine blood test.

“The results came back showing a problem with my liver. I was told to come back again in six months and when the same test was run, my liver damage had worsened. The doctor explained that it would be assessed again in another half year and if the issue was persisting then he’d get an expert in. Then Covid struck.”

The bottlenecks caused by the pandemic meant Chris was unable to get a GP appointment and have more checks undertaken, so he took matters into his own hands.

“I was lucky to have basic private healthcare through my employer and so through that, I ordered an Advanced Well Man Blood Test from Medichecks,” he explained.

“As I was working in a care home, all I needed to do was pass one of the nurses the kit and they did the blood draw for me. Then I sent the sample to the lab in the post and awaited my results.”

Chris updated Medichecks’ GPs on the results of his previous tests. He recalls how, up to this point, there’d been an assumption that him being overweight, and within the obese category, was the cause of his liver damage.

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His Medichecks test results showed his weight was not the issue and so began a process of elimination.

Undertaking highly targeted checks for specific areas including the impact of alcohol, problems with his immune system and the potential for heavy metal poisoning, each test returned biomarkers in the normal range, except for ferritin which highlighted higher than average ratings on every check.

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in your cells. A ferritin blood test can tell whether you are getting too much or too little iron.

Chris continued: “One of Medichecks’ GPs explained that I was consistently presenting with high ferritin levels and that they were increasing every time my biomarkers were reviewed.

“They advised me to speak to my doctor, so I called 111 and described how I’d had the same problem for five years. They told me to remove iron from my diet.”

With many cereals containing 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron, Chris’ liver was storing too much iron and poisoning his liver cells because he was eating too many of his beloved cornflakes.

After cutting them out and eradicating other iron-rich foods, like spinach, he no longer suffers from his uncomfortable symptoms and his ferritin levels are back within the normal category.

“It’s frustrating, but because I was fat everyone thought I had liver cirrhosis caused by obesity, so they didn’t take me seriously or investigate my problem properly,” Chris added.

“I felt like a bit of a hypochondriac constantly looking up my symptoms and undertaking so many tests. I was paranoid that doctors thought I was one of those difficult patients who was imagining something.

“I’m really thankful for the Medichecks tests and the comments from their doctors which were so helpful and friendly, there was no judgement or time pressure, and it was so convenient.”

Chris said this is the first time in more than five years that he’s felt healthy and he has even started losing weight.

With his symptoms halting many of his hobbies, which include DIY and gardening, he is now back doing the activities he loves and has a new lease of life, planning his dream of retiring to the Shetland Islands with his wife, Louise.

Commenting on Chris’ situation, Doctor Sihame Benmira at Medichecks, said: “Chris’ case is unfortunate, however, most people who consume fortified cereals are unlikely to experience any overload of vitamins or minerals.

“Iron poisoning depends on how much iron a person is ingesting, but also on other factors such as any health issues they may have and if they are on any medication at the same time.

On the positive side, eating fortified cereals may help prevent nutrient deficiencies but it is also important to check the labels as many of these cereals are high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates. It is therefore best to select cereals that are low in sugar and high in fibre and aim for moderation in intake to avoid any chance of ingesting too many nutrients and sugars. Or simply eating whole, unprocessed foods instead like eggs or oatmeal may be best.”

Doctor Benmira continued: “Iron is in fact essential for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. The NHS recommends a daily intake of 8.7mg for men and 14.8mg for women although some individuals may require more iron. Generally, 17mg or less of iron supplementation a day is unlikely to cause any harm. Luckily, most people can get all the iron they need by eating a balanced and varied diet. Good sources of iron include red meat, beans, nuts, and fortified breakfast cereals. Too much iron, however, can cause constipation, feeling and being sick and stomach pains, as well as liver issues.

“A lot of iron in the body can lead to high blood ferritin levels. But high ferritin levels can also be associated with infection or inflammation in the body, liver, kidney and thyroid problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, a high body mass index as well as drinking too much alcohol.”

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