Sunday, December 18, 2016

Iron, The Secret Killer

I became concerned about iron in my body after reading an article by a researcher at Duke on the “Golden Age of Iron Biology”.  I then read, “Dumping Iron: How to Ditch this Secret Killer and Reclaim Your Health” by P.D. Mangan, an excellent book on recent research about the negative effects of high levels of iron in the body.  In simple language a non-biologist like me can understand, the book explains astonishing new discoveries of why high iron concentrations in the body degrades health and shortens lives.  

According to the book, iron starts accumulating in men at age 19 and in most women starting at about age 50 after the end of their menses. At 50, the average man has 4 times as much iron in his body as the average women; he also has 4 times the mortality from diseases that appear to be caused by high iron. Women’s mortality increases as their iron levels reach the same high levels as men. Though women live 4 years longer than men, at their death the average iron levels of women are the same as the average men's level. The author notes that the majority of the oldest people alive have had low levels of iron most of their lives and populations that are long lived have low levels of iron in their blood.

According to the book, there was a dramatic rise in iron levels in the US population due to the addition of iron to grains and cereals, which has caused the average person to have higher levels of iron than is healthy. One of the issues with iron is that the body has no natural way to get rid of it so it builds up first in the liver, then in the pancreas, then other organs including the heart and brain. To make matters worse, sugar and fructose increase iron absorption significantly. So all the sugary drinks and foods people have added to their diet over the past few decades has further increased their iron levels.

High iron levels damages cellular mitochondria and is suspected to cause cancer. Even more interesting, cancer cells need large amounts of iron to grow and spread. Tumors in people with low iron tend to be very small and grow slowly.

Iron is also implicated in cancer reoccurring after treatments of chemotherapy and radiation because iron is needed for cancer stem cells to form. Cancer stem cells are special cancer cells that can travel throughout the body and restart cancer growth after treatment. Low levels of iron in the blood may prevent them from forming.

I was surprised to learn that high iron levels are needed for invasive bacteria to grow in the body and low iron levels actually increase immunity to bacteria. Even viruses, like colds and flu, need lots of iron to grow so low iron levels are also antiviral. It helps explains why people with low levels of iron live so long.

Evidence is also growing that high iron levels contribute to obesity because it destroys the hormone leptin, the key hormone that reduces hunger after eating. High iron levels can make you insatiably hungry which can lead to obesity.

The author believes that the best blood iron level is just over what would normally be considered anemia. He recommends that people keep their iron levels much lower than the normal ranges and consume things that both remove iron from the body and take things that decrease iron absorption from the foods you eat. What is really interesting about this is that most of the things that decrease iron absorption are considered life-extending like green tea, dark chocolate, red wine, low dose aspirin, low calorie diets, high fiber, vegetarian diets, and exercise.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve the quality of their health and longevity using recent discoveries about iron biology. Five stars!!!!