Too Much Iron Makes You Die Sooner

January 03, 2021

Higher Iron Makes you Die Sooner

That's it! Iron is a curious compound. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT nutrient for humans to duplicate themselves on planet earth, when you examine humans as hunter-gatherers, having continuous pregnancies in young women, and dying by age 35. Pregnant women have to have a boatload of iron to provide a newborn with sufficient iron. (27 mg a day during pregnancy, 9 a day while breastfeeding). That's a lot.

But the term "antagonistic pleiotropy" comes to mind with iron: what's good for you at one time in life is not so good later. Iron is a very powerful chemical and you pay a high price for having too much. So what happened in the 20th century? We cleaned up our water supplies, reducing iron loss through parasites like pinworm and hookworm. We "fortified" all our grains which meant adding iron to our flour and everything made from flour. And then we stopped having 12 children and decided that dying at age 35 was really unnecessary, and 100 sounded so much better. But fundamentally, the human body is designed to absorb as much iron as it can to support the need for reproduction. That works for young, pregnant women. It doesn't for men, ever. Nor does it work for women over childrearing ages. Year after year, our bodies absorb iron inexorably and our serum ferritin level rises. (That's not just folks with hemochromatosis who are severely affected by too much iron absorption.)

We have covered this before, but iron in your brain contributes to increased beta-amyloid and subsequent Alzheimer's. Ditto for coronary artery disease, cancer, even auto-immune illnesses. Does it surprise you to know that your immune system even tries to withhold iron from invading parasites that use the iron as a reason to invade you and cause harm? And if that doesn't move you,look at this article that shows men's erectile difficulty is strongly associated with iron overload!

So, this study confirms that hunch. Too much iron, and you die sooner. This study was massive, with over 1,000,000 subjects from three huge databases. Association does not prove causation but numbers count and the inability to do randomized, placebo-controlled trials over decades confounds the ability to do RCTs. The association popped out when looking at genes present in the subjects and Lifespan, Healthspan, and Extreme Longevity. Well, that's what you want: a healthspan free of illness that lasts longer. And iron levels didn't help that. This supports other data such as from Sweden showing that folks who donate the most blood, live the longest.

The Harvard Longevity Project first alerted us to the iron problem with the book, The Mind Span Diet by Preston Estep. They looked all around the world for places with optimal health spans and life spans and least cognitive decline. They found that ferritin of 20 (low end of normal) predicted lowest risk. That's it in a nutshell. 

Antagonistic pleiotropy!

www.What will Work for me. Easy. Donate blood. In this pandemic the health care system is desperate for blood. Get your ferritin down to at most 40. And if you are post-menopausal, stop taking iron supplements unless you have a specific, defined reason. All of medicine needs to take a reset on this topic. Stop eating

References: ScienceAlert, Nature Communications, J Med Genetics, ScienceNordic, Current Urol Rep.,

Pop Quiz

1. Why do humans get iron overloaded? Answer: Simple. We are designed to absorb iron avidly from our food so that, for most of human history, our young women could have babies, year after year after year. Worked in that environment.

2. Name 4 issues that changed in the 20th century. Answer: 1: We started living longer. 2. We cleaned up our water supplies so that most of us stopped having iron depleting intestinal parasites. 3. We added iron to our grain products, euphemistically calling that "fortification". 4. Women reduced the number of babies they had.

3. Extra iron makes heart disease better? T or F. Answer: False

4. Men with erectile difficulty should take more iron to make them "stronger". Answer: Go back and read this article again.

5. Explain what "antagonistic pleiotropy" means. Answer: What's good for you in one environment isn't necessary good for you in another: at a young age iron is critical for young women having many babies, at older ages all that iron increases risk for many diseases, all of which show up with aging.