26 July 2019

New research has found a mixture of positive and negative effects of having naturally higher iron levels.

The study, led by Dr Dipender Gill of Imperial College London, looked at the role that iron plays in over 900 diseases, by analysing genetic information from over 500,000 people. Iron is essential for many physiological processes, but the association between iron status and conditions such as stroke is not fully clear.

Previous research had identified genetic variants linked to four biomarkers of iron status, which they believe are useful as genetic determinants of iron status. In two studies published together, the team used a technique called Mendelian Randomisation to investigate the association between these genetic variants and a variety of conditions, including high cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke.

The researchers showed that people with naturally high iron status tend to have a reduced risk of high cholesterol levels and of atherosclerosis. Conversely, this high iron status raises risk of blood clots that can trigger stroke and deep vein thrombosis together with more bacterial skin infections, according to their studies.

“Getting the right amount of iron in the body is a fine balance – too little can lead to anaemia, but too much can lead to a range of problems including liver damage,” says Dr Gill.

He added: “These studies reveal new avenues of research and present many questions. We are still unclear on how iron affects cholesterol levels, narrows arteries and form blood clots, but we have ideas.

“One possibility is that the lower cholesterol levels may be linked to the reduced risk of arteries becoming furred. Furthermore, higher iron levels may cause blood clots to arise when flow is reduced, possibly explaining the increased chance of clots.”

Results from the two studies appear in The Journal of the American Heart Association, and PLOS Medicine

Sources: Gill, D., Brewer, C.F., Monori, G., Trégouët, D.A., Franceschini, N., Giambartolomei, C.; INVENT Consortium, Tzoulaki, I., Dehghan, A. (2019) “Effects of Genetically Determined Iron Status on Risk of Venous Thromboembolism and Carotid Atherosclerotic Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Study.” The Journal of the American Heart Association, available from doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012994

Gill, D., Benyamin, B., Moore, L.S.P., Monori, G., Zhou, A., Koskeridis, F., Evangelou, E., Laffan, M., Walker, A.P., Tsilidis, K.K., Dehghan, A., Elliott, P., Hyppönen, E., Tzoulaki, I. (2019) “Associations of genetically determined iron status across the phenome: A mendelian randomization study.” PLOS Medicine, available from doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002833


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