Brain Health and Iron

We all know that low levels of iron can cause anemia, but it seems that excess iron can be a factor in brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. It seems that getting the correct balance of iron in our body is vital for long-termphysical and mental health. For some, that may mean taking daily iron supplements.

Why We Need Iron

Iron is essential for providing the hemoglobin in red blood cells totransport oxygen to all the cells in the body. Low hemoglobin levels canindicate anemia, decreased immunity, and fatigue due to lack of energy.Eventually cells start dying if they do not receive the oxygen theyneed.

Getting sufficient levels of iron is essential, particularly forpregnant women and growing children. Iron deficiency can cause spinabifida and other problems in babies so folic acid is recommended as asupplement for pregnant mothers.

New studies also suggest that a lack of iron during early life canlead to the risk of schizophrenia in later life. Children born to womenwith hemoglobin levels of less than 10 g/dL were four times more likelyto develop schizophrenia disorders than those born to women withhemoglobin levels of 12 g/dL and higher.

Women are at higher risk of iron deficiency during theirchild-bearing years if they have a heavy menstrual flow. Enduranceathletes and those who have a diet low in iron are also at high risk ofiron deficiency. Drinking excessive amounts of tea and coffee or a high fiber diet can all decrease iron absorption in the body.

If you?re concerned you?re not getting enough iron, you can always try taking iron supplements. There are many different forms of iron supplements, however the best ones are those that combine a variety of other vitamins and nutrients into one formula. 

Too Much Iron?

Before you rush out to stock up on spinach, fortified breakfast cereals, liver, oysters and iron supplements, check out what excessiveiron can cause.

If your body has more iron than it can use for hemoglobin production,it has a very limited ability to expel the excess iron as waste.Instead, the iron builds up in tissues and organs. Not only can excessiron be a toxic metal, but it is a potent oxidizer, producing harmful free radicals which can damage body tissues and the neurons in thebrain.

Iron and Alzheimer's Disease

Accumulationsof iron have been linked directly to Alzheimer's disease. When the ironaccumulates, it becomes reactive in the beta-amyloid plaques that arefound in the brain of Alzheimer's sufferers.

A 2014 study by the Centre for Neuroinflammation andNeurodegeneration in London found that as we age, excess iron complexesaccumulate in the areas of the brain which control memory and thoughtprocesses. By reducing this iron accumulation using iron chelators topermeate the blood-brain barrier, scientists were able to increaseneuro-protection against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

This was confirmed by studies on animals which showed that higheriron levels in the blood triggered an increase in beta-amyloid and tauproteins. These are known to disrupt the ability of neurons in the brain to conduct electrical signals which is consistent with the symptoms ofAlzheimer's. Separate research showed that reducing excess iron in thebrain alleviated the symptoms of Alzheimer's, suggesting that measuring iron levels could be a new way to detect early Alzheimer's. Lowering those excess levels of iron could pave the way for a treatment ofAlzheimer's in its early stage.

Whether excess iron comes from excessive iron supplementation or from using metal saucepans, as has long been suspected, it is clear that too much iron accumulating in the neurons of the brain is not only toxicbut may also cause neurodegeneration.

The only way to check your iron level is by measuring hemoglobin levels through a blood test. It's worth asking your doctor to confirm your iron levels at your next health check to ensure you are not at risk of getting too much or too little iron.

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