What is the relationship between cardiovascular health and iron levels in the body? Do people with a deficiency of this precious mineral have a greater cardiovascular risk? The evidence shown by scientific research is not yet definitive and has provided inconsistent results. A recent research carried out by Imperial College London and University College London has associated a reduced risk of coronary heart disease with higher levels of iron. We talk about it with Dr. Barbara Sarina, hematologist from Humanitas.
A study carried out in 1999 and published on Circulation highlighted that there were no strong associations between the incidence of cardiovascular disease and iron levels in the body; other researches had shown how greater iron quantities could have a protective effect on heart health, while according to other studies it could instead increase the cardiovascular risk.
The two research teams from the two British centers has used the genetics to evaluate this association: they identified a DNA variation of 48 thousand individuals associated with higher or lower iron. They then tracked this variation in over 50 thousand patients with coronary artery disease: it emerged that this DNA variation was linked to higher levels of iron, as well as to a lower risk of presenting coronary artery disease.
Therefore – as the researchers suggest in the study published on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology – with more iron, the risk of developing coronary heart disease would be reduced. However, the data is not conclusive: ‘I believe we should await further confirmation about the protective role of higher iron levels in the development of cardiovascular diseases’, underlines Dr. Sarina.
The relationship between anemia and cardiovascular health is clearer
‘As with anemia, whatever the cause, the oxygen supply is reduced due to low hemoglobin values, thus being harmful for the heart’, explains the specialist. ‘Therefore in patients with cardiac diseases we tend to keep hemoglobin at levels above 9 or 10 in order to avoid an overload on the heart. Iron interferes not only in the synthesis of hemoglobin but also plays an important role in other biological processes, as shown by the numerous symptoms related to deficiency, such as hair loss and irritability. Therefore – she concludes – the iron deficiency must always be treated’.