Excess Iron May Harm Blood Vessels
According to lead investigator Dr. Hidehiro Matsuoka, Kurume Medical School, excess iron may cause damage to the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels. This could lead to a hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart attack.
Consuming high amounts of iron in the long term may increase the iron levels in the body. Experts recommend that people over the age of 40 should be tested regularly for high levels of iron if they also have other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Excess iron raised levels of malondialdehyde, a chemical marker for oxidation and inhibited normal endothelial function. The research team then studied the effects of lowering iron blood levels in 10 smokers and discovered that the endothelial function returned to normal. The team also injected 10 healthy volunteers with high doses of iron (0.7 mg per kg body weight) and used ultrasound imaging to observe arterial wall functioning.
The study could also explain why premenopausal women have less heart disease since iron is removed from the body each month during menstruation. (Meeting of the American Heart Association’s Council for High Blood Pressure Research October 2000).
Information provided is courtesy of and compiled by the Academy of Anti-Aging Research staff, editors, and other reports.
Excess Iron and the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response
Excess iron that accumulates in the body can become iron overload, a medical condition called hemochromatosis.
Primary hemochromatosis is caused by genetic and hereditary factors, and secondary hemochromatosis is caused by other disorders and too much iron introduced to the body from food, blood transfusions, and supplementation, among others.
The organs most affected by hemochromatosis are the liver, heart and endocrine glands – all of which are part of the NEM stress response circuits.
The NEM stress response is composed of six circuits of organs and systems, including the cardionomic, the metabolic, the hormonal, the detoxification, the neuro-affective and the inflammatory.
When the body is exposed to stress, whether physical, mental or emotional, the NEM ecosystem mounts a response to deal with the stressor. The main neuroendocrine highway that handles this is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis, which includes the adrenal glands. Outside of the central nervous system (CNS), the most important stress control centers are the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands, two small organs resting on top of the kidneys, secrete over 50 hormones that help the body deal with stress. The most important of these hormones is cortisol. This is why an imbalance of the adrenals can affect the entire body and hinders the way it handles stress.
When iron overload affects the adrenal glands, it can lead to adrenal insufficiency, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, low blood pressure, weight loss and weakness. And when it affects the thyroid, it can cause hypothyroidism, which can lead to weight gain, dry skin, slow heart rate and low blood pressure.
Other endocrine problems can occur when iron deposits form in the pituitary gland and pancreas. Low libido, erectile dysfunction, amenorrhea, gonadal dysfunction and diabetes mellitus can all be triggered by iron overload in the endocrine system.
The stress excess iron causes the heart and blood vessels will also affect the cardionomic circuit of the NEM stress response, and the stress it causes the liver will affect the detoxification response.
Though these issues are more prevalent with hereditary hemochromatosis, they can occur with secondary hemochromatosis from an accumulation of excess iron introduced into the body over time.
The inhibition of the inflammatory response by iron overload has been studied and documented. This inhibition makes one more susceptible to diseases and infections. This is especially the case with hereditary hemochromatosis or iron overload from frequent blood transfusions.
Anti-Aging Perspective on Excess Iron
High iron levels impede the action of nitric oxide, a chemical released by the endothelium, which aids in keeping blood vessels relaxed.
Unless you have iron deficiency anemia, iron supplementation is generally not recommended due to the tendency of getting iron overload. A good policy is to have your serum ferritin level checked before embarking on an iron supplement strategy.
Ferritin is an iron carrying protein and when its levels drop below 20 that is a sign of iron deficiency. Occasionally ferritin will be greater than 20 and the person still may need iron. Those with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, will have falsely elevated ferritin levels.
Men are more prone to iron overload since women lose some iron every month through menstruation. Donating blood is an excellent way to lower iron levels if needed. Eating red meat is a good way to obtain iron from food.
Pearlman, B.L. (2011, April 30). Hereditary Hemochromatosis: Early Detection of a Common Yet Elusive Disease. Retrieved from http://www.consultant360.com/content/hereditary-hemochromatosis-early-detection-common-yet-elusive-disease
Swierzewski, S. J. III. (2015, September 18). Hemochromatosis Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved from http://www.healthcommunities.com/hemochromatosis/symptoms.shtml
Wessling-Resnick, M. (2011, August 21). Iron Homeostasis and the Inflammatory Response. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108097/