by Andrew W. Saul

Hemochromatosis is a severe iron-buildup problem. It is usually hereditary. If you are unsure if you have it, get tested. Next time you are going to have your blood checked, you can bring this up with your doctor of choice. A known hemochromatosis (HC) patient should not take megadoses of C unless under the supervision of an experienced physician.

Excess dietary iron may be the real problem, not vitamin C. The body can relatively easily absorb more heme (meat) iron than it needs. When and if vitamin C has a negative effect in HC patients, it is probably due to release of stored iron, not new absorption. (1)

I recommend a low heme-iron diet, which is a low-meat or meatless diet. Vegetarian diet provides non-heme iron, and even with megadoses of vitamin C, there seems to be a normal iron absorption shut-off. (2)

In my opinion, one should beware the questionable work of outspokenly anti-ascorbate hematologist Victor Herbert, a voice behind claims that vitamin C is a public problem due to looming dangers of iron overload. Herbert's papers grossly overstate a statistically slight danger. There are no deaths per year from vitamin C. By Herbert's logic, many thousands of C users should be dropping dead from HC. Herbert was also the author of the vitamin-C-destroys-B-12-legend, which has been proven to be unfounded.


1) Rowbotham B, Roeser HP. Aust N Z J Med. 1984 Oct;14(5):667-9. Iron overload associated with congenital pyruvate kinase deficiency and high dose ascorbic acid ingestion. PMID: 6597712 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

2) Bendich A, Cohen M. Toxicol Lett. 1990 Apr;51(2):189-201. Ascorbic acid safety: analysis of factors affecting iron absorption. “Three parameters associated with iron absorption were identified: 1. a relatively shallow slope for the dose-response curve relating ascorbic acid dosage (1-1000 mg) and percent iron absorption; 2. no significant effect of ascorbic acid on the absorption of high (60 mg) iron doses; and 3. an inverse relationship between iron absorption and plasma transferrin saturation. Ascorbic acid did not increase the incidence of 'high' iron absorbers (greater than 2 SD from population mean) above control levels; limited data for ascorbic acid doses greater than 100 mg/d indicated no change in the distribution of iron absorption values.” PMID: 2184546 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Additional Comments on Hemochromatosis

Ron Hunninghake, MD:

“There have been some reports of iron overload with vitamin C therapy. We have treated one patient with hemochromatosis with high-dose IVC with no adverse effects or significant changes in the iron status.” (The Riordan IVC Protocol for Adjunctive Cancer Care: Intravenous Ascorbate as a Chemotherapeutic and Biological Response Modifying Agent, Section 9, p 15. )

Thomas E. Levy, MD, JD:

“I cover this issue on pages 394 to 398 of my book VITAMIN C, INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND TOXINS. It's not as clear-cut as other issues, but high-dose vitamin C over the long run is probably as good for hemochromatosis as it is for other conditions.” (Chapter 4, "The Safety of High Doses of Vitamin C." Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins: Curing the Incurable. ISBN: 1-4010-6964-9 [Hardcover]; 1-4010-6963-0[Softcover]

Robert Cathcart, III, MD:

“My clinical experience would indicate that vitamin C increases iron absorption when iron is needed. It seems to increase excretion of iron when there is an excessive amount of iron. Therefore, vitamin C might be a good treatment of hemochromatosis. This theoretical difficulty concerning C is typical of how the orthodoxy will expand a theory into a fact without any evidence.”

Steve Hickey, PhD:

“There is a theoretical danger but the actual reports are sparse and unclear. I expect that if vitamin C really did have such a side-effect, its detractors would have had a field day. Having read much of the available evidence, I consider the benefits of high dose vitamin C to exceed greatly any (largely theoretical) side-effects.” (Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C Hickey S and Roberts H. ISBN 1-4116-0724-4. http://www.doctoryourself.com/news/v5n2.txt)

And I will add my own closing point:

Too much blood iron has been associated with an increase in heart disease. (1) On the other hand, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2) by the National Center for Health Statistics and Centers for Disease Control "reported that high transferrin saturation levels are not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease or myocardial infarction. On the contrary, it was found that there is an inverse association of iron stores with overall mortality and with mortality from cardiovascular disease." (3)

In other words, high iron does not cause cardiovascular disease, but low iron actually might. Health is somewhere in the middle.  


1. Ascherio A et al. Dietary iron intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. Circulation 1994; 89:969-74.

2. Sempos CT et al. Body iron stores and the risk of coronary heart disease. NEJM 1994; 330:1119-24

3.Carl Germano, M.A., R.D.  Iron status and cardiovascular heart disease. Vitamin Retailer magazine, 1995. http://drpasswater.com/nutrition_library/iron_heart.html


Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at http://www.doctoryourself.com/review.html ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/saulbooks.html )

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Andrew W. Saul


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