Regular consumption of iron-rich foods may improve people’s heart health, but it also increases the risk for stroke.
Researchers at Imperial College London examined the medical data of more than 500,000 people to find out how iron affects the development of over 900 different diseases in the body.
They found that naturally high levels of iron can help lower people’s risk of high cholesterol levels and even prevent the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. However, the team also found that high levels of the mineral can make people more susceptible to stroke due to increased risk of blood clots. It also makes the skin more vulnerable to different bacterial infections.
The results show the important role iron plays in maintaining good health as well as the dangers of having high levels of the mineral in the body.
Dr. Dipender Gill, lead author of the study said, “Iron is a crucial mineral in the body, and is essential for carrying oxygen around the body.”
He added, “However, 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.”
Gill and his team also found that higher iron levels can increase the risk of clots related to slower blood flow. This can cause people to become more susceptible to stroke and deep vein thrombosis. The results also showed the potential of developing different skin infections associated with high iron levels.
While the results provide new insights regarding the role of iron on human health, they also raise many questions. Researchers have yet to understand how the mineral affects cholesterol levels, narrows the arteries, and causes blood to clot.
Gill theorizes that lower cholesterol levels may be associated with the reduced risk of some arteries becoming clogged. Higher levels of iron may also cause more blood clots to form when the flow of blood is reduced. This may help explain why the researchers found an increased occurrence of blood clots in their study.
As for the increased risk of skin infections, Gill believes that iron may also play a crucial role in the replication and virulence of certain bacteria.