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Originally published July 1994 The Townsend Letter for Doctors

SIDS and Iron Overload

Leslie N. Johnston, D.V.M.


There is evidence to indicate that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is related to high levels of iron (Hemochromatosis) in these babies. Liver non-haem iron and cardiac blood ferritin concentrations were measured in 64 full-term infants who died of SIDS and 17 full-term infants who died as a result of accident or illness (controls) up to 1 year of age. The median, post-mortem blood concentration in SIDS was 23,400 ug/1 approximately 200 times the level found in the serum of normal live infants aged 3 months. (R. Raha Chowdhury, C.A. Moore, D.G. Fagan, and M. Worwood, Department of Haematology, U. of Wales, College of Medicine, Cardiff, Stafford Central Clinic, Stafford, Department of Histopathology, Queens Medical Center, Nottingham; taken from abstracts of the 4th International Conference of Hemochromatosis and Clinical Problems in Iron Metabolism). Death from Hemochromatosis (H) (Iron Overload) can occur any time from before birth until the patient reaches a ripe old age. This is kind of like that new song just out called From the Womb to the Tomb which is directed at President Clintons health plan.

The idea is, that if you are from a family that has had the tragic experience of SIDS, chances are there will be members of your family or your relatives who have full-blown H. I can personally tell you that this does happen, from my own family experience and from a family of a first cousin. There are enough parts of this puzzle to prove that SIDS and H do go together. I

believe from this, that the cause of the baffling SIDS problem is solved in most cases. Iron overload is what literally tears these babies apart.

There are about 1,225,000 people in our country who have the double genes to develop full-blown H. and of this number, about 750,000 actually have full-blown H. I would have to say that at least 500,000 of these that have full-blown H are undiagnosed. This says nothing of the 25,000,000 who have the single gene for H and many of them have iron-loading problems also. How sad this is, for if diagnosed soon enough and follow the simple treatment of donating blood in most cases, the sad situation can be turned into a healthy and normal life in most cases.

SIDS is just one of the deadly aspects of H, and knowing what iron overload will do to the body is enough to warrant being aware of foods and pills highly fortified (adulterated) with iron and for baby formulas, in particular. It is also enough evidence that an iron profile (iron tests) including TIBC or UIBC, transferrin saturation, serum iron, and ferritin, should be included in every blood profile that is run on every patient for the detection of iron overload and to a lesser extent, for iron deficiency. If you use hemoglobin or hematocrit tests to determine iron status, you and your patient could be in serious trouble. All of these tests should be included because of the differences in the readings amongst the races Jews and Blacks in particular. (D. Mevorach, Y. Sinai, Z. Acherman, L. Sherman, H. Brautbar, D. Yeshum, Hadassah Mt. Scopus, and the Tissue Typing Unit Hadassah Ein-Karem, Jerusalem, Israel. Non HLA-Linked Genetic Hemochromatosis in a Family of Yemenite Origin also taken from the abstracts mentioned above).

By the way doctors, have you had iron profiles run on yourselves? H does occur in us doctors too! I have seen this happen too many times.