We need the mineral iron in our blood to support healthy oxygenation and fight fatigue. It’s a mineral we certainly don’t want to be short of, but it’s also vital that we don’t have too much, either.
Unfortunately, a Harvard geneticist and longevity researcher believes most of us already have too much iron in our bodies. And he believes that it’s causing a host of health problems leading to premature death.
Here’s what you need to know…
Iron has many important roles in the body. But you can have too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s easy to do. Only premenopausal women are protected from excess iron levels through regular loss of blood through their monthly menstrual cycle.
Since the body doesn’t have another active pathway to remove iron, consuming more than you need will cause a buildup in tissues and organs that can contribute to numerous health problems.
Iron Plays a Role in Many Chronic illnesses
Researchers theorize that iron overload could be one reason for the development of diabetes, writing “…it is obvious that iron overload, irrespective of the cause…results in an increased incidence of type-2 diabetes.”
The researchers added that “several studies have demonstrated a direct association between increased iron intake, body iron stores, and cardiovascular risk in the general population.”
In addition, in a review published in 2018, the authors wrote of the “profound role of iron in cancer” and that “it has become apparent that iron contributes not only to carcinogenesis but also to tumor progression and metastasis [spread].”
If that’s not bad enough, too much iron is damaging the brain. Increases in the iron content of specific brain regions have also been identified in many neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Supplements May Be Harmful
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to iron, supplements aren’t necessary for people in good health. However, nearly one in five Americans use supplements containing iron, yet only premenopausal and pregnant women, people with certain chronic conditions, and those on a vegan diet may need them.
In fact, supplementing with iron—especially as you age—can shorten your lifespan.
Writing in the journal Cancer Science in 2020 scientists from Japan pointed out that “stored iron is increased all over the body during aging. It is conceivable that the excess iron induces deleterious effects on cellular functions, eventually leading to cell death.”
Further research suggests they’re right.
High Iron Levels Linked to Higher Risk of Death
Researchers in the United Kingdom found that men with the highest iron levels had almost a 50 percent greater risk of death from any cause.
Scientists from the United Kingdom and Germany analyzed data from over a million people, 60,000 of which were extremely long-lived. They looked at ten factors that could affect mortality, but only one stood out – iron status.
Senior author Dr. Paul Timmers explained, saying, “We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage.”
A separate study came to a similar conclusion. The authors wrote, “Taken together, these findings suggest that associations between higher iron status and increased mortality risk reported in prior observational studies may reflect causal relationships.”
One of the study authors, Dr. Dipender Gill from Imperial College London, commented, saying, “Our results suggest that there is a need to better understand the health implications of people boosting their iron levels with supplements when they don’t need to.”
His fellow author, Iyas Daghlas from Harvard Medical School, added, “These findings…further support the idea that people without an iron deficiency are unlikely to benefit from supplementation, and that it may actually do them harm.”
How to Maintain Low to Normal Iron Levels
The simplest way to check your iron status is by having a serum ferritin blood test on a regular basis. Chances are, you’ve got more than enough iron and are likely in iron overload.
A major study of Americans aged 67 to 96 found “a high prevalence of elevated iron stores in contrast with a low prevalence of iron deficiency.”
Although the normal range of serum ferritin is anywhere from 11 to 336 ng/ml, Harvard geneticist and longevity researcher Preston Estep said, “I believe current scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the traditionally acceptable range of blood iron levels is too high.” He considers a healthy level to be up to 40 ng/ml.
So, how can you reduce your iron stores?
Donating blood will reduce excess levels. A blood donation can only be done once every 56 days. There’s also a treatment called therapeutic phlebotomy. It’s the same procedure as donating blood, except you can do it more often– weekly if needed. Each phlebotomy reduces the ferritin level by 30 to 50 points.
You can also undergo subcutaneous deferoxamine treatment. Deferoxamine is an IV chelating agent. It’s a bacterial culture that soaks up and removes iron, along with aluminum, copper, and mercury. In the hands of a trained clinician, it’s very safe.
Also, one of my favorite anti-inflammatory supplements, curcumin, is a powerful chelator of iron.
It’s important to watch your diet as well. Avoid a diet high in red meat and processed foods—these are almost always fortified with iron.