Iron in heart disease

Iron deficiency can adversely affect the heart, leading to abnormal heartbeat and heart function. However, the evidence from many scientific studies suggests that high iron levels (above 200 mcg per liter blood ferritin) may lead to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. The increased risk may be due to oxidative damage to the heart and blood vessels, and increased oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

Iron in heart diseaseA study published in 1998 in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that men and women, particularly those over 60, are at increased risk of heart disease if they have high levels of iron in their diets. The study, which was conducted in Greece, involved 329 patients with heart disease and 570 people of similar age who were admitted to hospital with minor conditions believed to be unrelated to diet. Results showed that for every 50 mg increase in iron intake per month, men over 60 were 1.47 times more likely to have heart disease than their peers. In women over 60, the risk was even higher; with a 3.61 -fold risk for every 50 mg increase.

Another study published in 1998 in the journal Circulation suggests that men with high levels of stored iron in the body have an increased risk of heart attack. The study, which was done in Finland, involved 99 men who had had at least one heart attack and 99 healthy men matched for background and age. The results showed that those men with the highest iron levels had almost three times the risk of heart attack when compared to those with the lowest levels. Further research is needed to confirm this link and to establish whether this applies to women whose blood ferritin levels are typically much lower (20 to 120 mcg per liter). Some experts believe that women are protected from heart disease until after menopause due to iron losses during menstruation. See also: Minerals and cardiovascular disease

However, a National Institute of Aging study suggests that low iron levels in heart disease are linked to an increased likelihood of death in elderly people. Researchers looked at the iron status of nearly 4000 men and women aged 71 and over. Results of the five-year study showed that low iron levels increased the risk of total and coronary heart disease deaths. Those with higher iron levels had decreased risk. Men with the highest iron levels had only 20 per cent of the risk of dying of heart disease of those with the lowest levels. Women with the highest levels were about half as likely to die of heart disease compared to those with the lowest levels.

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