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Mixed findings for iron status

Wednesday July 17th, 2019

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

The work looked at the role that iron plays in over 900 diseases, by analysing genetic information from over 500,000 people.

Dr Dipender Gill of Imperial College London, UK, and colleagues explain that iron is essential for many physiological processes, but the association between iron status and stroke risk is not fully clear.

By using Mendelian Randomisation, the team had previously identified genetic variants linked to four biomarkers of iron status, which they believe are useful as indicators of overall iron status. They have now investigated the association between these genetic variants and cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke.

Now they can show that people with naturally high iron status tend to have a reduced risk of high cholesterol levels and of atherosclerosis - but a raised risk of blood clots that can trigger stroke and deep vein thrombosis together with more bacterial skin infections.

“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 appear today (17 July) in The Journal of the American Heart Association.

Gill, D. et al. 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 17 July 2019; doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012994

Tags: Genetics | Heart Health | UK News

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