The medical world calls it Hereditary Hemochromatosis/Iron Overload.
It’s known in some circles as the Irish Curse, but is it really a Viking Victory?
Some of you know I’m taking part in the medical equivalent of a Texas Death Match with my own diagnosis of iron overload genetic disorder… and I’m winning!
Each week they remove a pint of blood from me to force the stored iron in my tissues out into the new blood my body is forced to make. This slow and steady leeching process detoxifies my organs and brings everything back to normal levels.
Caught in time one gets to be symptom free and live a full life. Caught later, the blood letting still helps lessen symptoms and prevents further deterioration of organs. Left untreated it leads to liver failure, cirrhosis, heart attack, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis and eight cancers – including pancreatic, stomach, gall bladder and liver cancer.
Bloodletting to save me… so Game Of Thrones of them.
Course I love a good fight almost as much as I love a good story and the tale of hereditary hemochromatosis turns out to be epic! Iron in the body is the food that bacteria feeds on to get strong and overwhelm its defense systems. That’s why we have chelators around all the openings in our body – binding with much of the iron so bacteria can’t feed and grow. It’s a balancing act. But my mutation locks down iron on a permanent basis allowing it to store over time, stiffen organs and, Goodnight Detroit.
But why would evolution choose something that will time bomb in 40 years? Because it would save them today!!! Here’s where it gets awesome. If you have the mutation it stores iron but it’s stingy about storing it in one special place – inside the police force type white blood cells.
This cell surrounds trouble, preventing it from spreading. In people with normal versions of this cell, the bacteria and infection can smuggle in as a trojan horse, growing strong on the police cell’s iron, and breaking free to cause chaos as the cells give it a ride around the body. But my police cells carry no iron.
Neither did the Vikings cells – where it started.
They got about 40 infection and illness free years – time enough to mate etc. and all the battling and bloodletting of their daily lives kept the thing in check, for many, beyond 40.
When the black death/plague came to Europe, the Viking’s founder colonies had spread the gene and protected a portion of the population… which spread it further and allowed much of Europe to survive many illnesses before antibiotics etc.
Source/reference materials: An excellent book by Dr. Shannon Moalem