Ferritin, commonly measured in blood tests to assess anemia, is an iron storage protein. It is the primary iron storage mechanism and is critical to iron homeostasis. Ferritin makes iron available for critical cellular processes while protecting our cell lipids, DNA, and proteins from the potentially toxic effects of iron. Yes, iron IS a toxic metal if not adequately transported throughout the body. Iron also has the potential to be highly toxic by facilitating the formation of free radicals that can damage cells and be a cause of cancer.(1)

Ferritin, Iron and Cancer 1
In humans, the majority of iron is integrated within the globin proteins – everyone remembers hemoglobin from high school biology. It facilitates the transport of oxygen throughout the body and into the cells. Iron is also critical in converting oxygen into useable, cellular energy by serving as a key component in the electron transfer chain.

Iron is also utilized as an enzymatic co-factor in numerous other reactions. Co-factors help chemical reactions take place. One such reaction is the conversion of ribose nucleotides to deoxyribose nucleotides (I’m taxing your memory of biology for sure), an iron-dependent process that is necessary for DNA replication and cell division. That last phrase is important to remember – iron aides in cell replication.

Why do many chronic illnesses, such as cancer, lead to LOW iron levels? While there may be multiple reasons for this, with cancer, one reason lies in the above fact – iron aides in cell replication. A rapidly growing tumor can gobble up iron to aide its perpetuity.(2)

 

Is Iron Supplementation Contraindicative for Cancer Patients?

The common occurrence of anemia in cancer patients may be associated with several complications. Typical symptoms are pallor (pale-colored skin), cold skin, weakness and fatigue, reduced physical fitness, brittle nails, impairment of cognitive functions, headaches, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, depression, loss of libido, and more. Regardless of the possibility of the cancer robbing the patient’s iron stores, the anemia must be treated. Many doctors recommend oral ferrous sulfate, available over-the-counter or via prescription. This form is difficult to digest and absorb and can commonly lead to constipation. We recommend a whole-food form.

Ferritin, Iron and Cancer 2
Using Cancer’s Iron-Loving Appetite to Our Benefit

Artemisinin (sweet wormwood, artemisinin annua) is natural herb that gained much of its fame in the treatment of malaria. It contains a chemical compound that reacts with iron to form free radicals which have also been shown to kill cancer cells. Cancer cells require and uptake a large amount of iron to proliferate making them more susceptible to the cytotoxic effect of artemisinin than normal cells. Cancer cells express a large concentration of cell surface transferrin receptors that facilitate uptake of blood iron. By tagging artemisinin to transferrin, artemisinin could be selectively picked up and concentrated by cancer cells. Futhermore, both artemisinin and iron would be transported into the cell in one package. Once an artemisinin and iron enter the cell, the formation of free radicals kills the cancer cell. The authors of one study (3) have found that artemisinin-tagged transferrin is highly selective and potent in killing cancer cells. Thus, artemisinin and artemisinin-tagged iron-carrying compounds could be developed into powerful anticancer drugs.

A Possible Solution

Before pharmaceutical medications take advantage of the iron-artemisinin connection, could taking supplemental, whole-food iron along with a high-quality artemisinin give similar benefits? Well, for cancer patients with anemia, this seems like a reasonable way to support the increased need for iron.

Supplementation:

  • Take 1-3 Ferrofood on a relatively empty (15-30 minutes from food) stomach, three times per day
  • Take an equal number of Artemisinin 30 minutes after taking the Ferrofood

 

 

(1) Knovich MA, Storey JA, Coffman LG, Torti SV, Torti FM. Ferritin for the clinician. Blood Rev. 2008;23(3):95-104.

(2) Ironing Out CancerSuzy V. Torti and Frank M. Torti  10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-3614 

(3)  2005 Oct;9(5):995-1007. Targeted treatment of cancer with artemisinin and artemisinin-tagged iron-carrying compounds. Lai H1, Sasaki T, Singh NP.