What do we know about Hemochromatosis, or Iron Storage Disease, as it affects our birds? Not enough, which is why projects like the Otis "ONE" Fund are so important.
In the last 3 decades, incidences of Iron Storage Disease have become evident in our domesticed birds. It occurs when too much iron accumulats in the liver and other organs. Certain amounts of iron are need for the body to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen molecules from the lungs throughout the body's cells. But, if the body has an access of iron, the access has to be deposited somewhere. The access is deposited in the liver, then the heart, lungs, and other organs, and causes significant damage, and eventually, death.
Hemosiderosis, is a less malignant for of Iron Storage Disease. In Hemosiderosis, the excess iron (called hermosiderin) accumulates in the tissues and circulates freely in the blood without actually damaging the major organs. Hemosiderosis can he a precursor to hemochromatosis, and if shows up in your bird, needs to be attended to and watched carefully.
Though quite a rare disease, Iron Storage Disease most commonly occurs in Toucans, Mynahs, Softbills; birds that eat primarily fruit, insects, or are omnivorous. This is because these birds tend to accumulate more iron in their livers, which makes them more prone to the disease than birds that dine mostly on meat, fish, or grains and seeds. So, for Dr. Anderson, it must have been quite dumbfounding to hear Otis' diagnosis.
For humans, Iron Storage disease is generally one of the most common genetic dieseases. While reasearch continues, it appears that the genes cause the digestive system to take up more iron than is normal through the mucosal cells and deposits the access iron in the liver and other organs. It is also interesting to note that, in humans at least; a diet high in iron has no effect one way or the other on the progress of the disease. As yet, no one has investigated Iron Storage Disease in various avian species thoroughly enough to positively identify a genetic cause or contributing factor, so we don't know if there is a genetic "predisposition" to the disease in birds.. Aviculturists, nutritionists, and geneticists continue to question whether or not dietary iron causes or contributes to the development of the disease. The common consensus that a "low iron" diet (less than 100 ppm of iron, dry weight) is suggested to avoid the disease. However, a study undertaken on a flock of mynahs that were fed a diet containing less than 80 ppm of iron showed that the birds still developed the disease at the same statistical rate as birds on a 200+ ppm diet. This might or might not point to the fact that mynahs, like humans, are genetically predisposed to the disease regardless of how much iron comes into their bodies. This may not hold true for other species of birds with this problem.
So, what do we, as Quaker owners need to do for our birds regarding Iron Storage Disease? Well, we know that regardless of the reason a species develops Hemochromatosis, it seems to be understood by medical studies in both birds and mammals that the consumption of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) increases the body's ability to take up iron. Therefore, citrus fruits and other food high in Vitamin C are not recommended for birds prone to iron storage disease and that for species on a formulated diet, the iron content of the diet would be best if it keep under 100ppm.