African Iron Overload

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

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It is possible that the main title of the report African Iron Overload is not the name you expected.

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion


African iron overload is a rare disorder characterized abnormally elevated levels of iron in the body. The name originates from the initial description of this entity in sub-Saharan Africa, in communities where affected individuals drink a traditional, homemade beer that contains a high amount of iron. Symptoms may vary from case to case but can include the accumulation of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) in the liver and, eventually, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). The exact cause of African iron overload is unknown, but researchers believe that a combination of dietary and genetic factors result in the development of the disorder.


Researches originally believed that the popular, iron-rich beer caused cases of African iron overload. However, many individuals that drank the beer did not develop the disorder and some individuals that did not drink the beer did develop it. This led researchers to speculate that a mutation of a gene or genes involved in the transport or breakdown (metabolism) of iron must play a role in the development of African iron overload. Such a gene has not yet been identified.

Supporting Organizations

Iron Disorders Institute

PO Box 675
Taylors, SC 29687
Tel: (864)292-1175
Fax: (864)292-1878
Tel: (888)565-4766

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This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). For a full-text version of this report, go to and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

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Last Updated:  3/12/2013
Copyright  2013 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.