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Too Much of This Mineral May Shorten Your Life, Study Finds

Having high iron levels may put you at risk of dying younger.

A recent study unveils a potential new connection between iron levels and longevity.

The study, which appeared in the journal Nature Communications, pooled data from three large human genetic studies, "reaching an unprecedented sample of more than a million people," the lead study author and data analyst Paul Timmers, from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, tells Eat This, Not That! 

"Using genetics, we found multiple lines of evidence indicating poor control of blood iron levels is causally linked to a shorter lifespan and fewer years lived in good health." (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

What did the study reveal?

After examining the DNA of individuals who lived long and healthy lives versus those who experienced age-related diseases and even death early in life, the researchers were able to pinpoint 10 regions of the genome that were related to three key measures of aging: lifespan, years lived free of disease (healthspan), and living to old age (longevity). Two such regions, LDLR and FOXO3, were explicitly found to influence the expression of genes that help the body metabolize iron, which is what led the researchers to hypothesize that iron levels could play a role in aging.

Senior study author Joris Deelen, PhD, who studies the biology of aging at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany explains that "genetic variation in these regions seems to be the most important for healthy iron metabolism. Genes influenced by genetic variation in the other eight regions are not directly linked to iron metabolism."

So, how might your iron levels impact your lifespan?

Essentially, those with high iron levels may have an increased risk of dying younger.

"It is well-known that a deficit in iron can cause poor health, but we showed, for the first time, that for most people a small reduction in blood iron—from their current levels—is likely beneficial to their health," says Deelen. "Iron metabolism and healthy aging were not linked before."

The researchers discovered that genetic predisposition to higher iron levels is what's associated with a reduced lifespan, which is largely out of your control.

"We found that DNA variations, which elevate your iron levels in the blood (from birth), also increase your likelihood of getting age-related diseases and dying," says Timmers.

So, this doesn't mean you should never eat red meat or remove other iron-rich foods from your diet altogether, however, it may encourage you to become more conscious of what your iron levels are.

"People tend to lose their ability to regulate iron levels as they get older, so regularly checking your iron levels could be important to maintain optimal health into old age," says Timmers.

Of course, further research is needed because it isn't clear on what would be considered an optimal iron level in the blood. In fact, it could vary from person to person.

"Further clinical studies are needed to determine the precise mechanisms by which iron metabolism is linked to healthy aging," Deelen adds.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the former news editor of Eat This, Not That! Read more about Cheyenne
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