Health & Wellbeing

Gene study suggests healthy aging linked to blood iron levels

Gene study suggests healthy aging linked to blood iron levels
New research suggests the genes linked to healthy aging also play a role in iron metabolism
New research suggests the genes linked to healthy aging also play a role in iron metabolism
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New research suggests the genes linked to healthy aging also play a role in iron metabolism
New research suggests the genes linked to healthy aging also play a role in iron metabolism

A large gene study has discovered several genomic regions linked to longer and healthier lives are also involved in metabolizing iron in the blood. The research suggests abnormal blood iron levels may fundamentally underpin many age-related diseases.

Iron is essential to the functioning of a healthy human body. However, too much iron or too little can rapidly lead to wide variety of problems. Cellular iron metabolism is generally regulated by a number of genes. Mutations in those genes can lead to iron metabolism disorders such as hemochromatosis, in which the body has an overabundance of iron.

A new study, from the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, initially set out to investigate which genes can be linked to longer, healthy lives. Three massive public genomic datasets were analyzed, encompassing over one million subjects.

Ten genomic regions were found to correlate with longer lifespan, healthspan and longevity, five of which have never been linked to healthy aging. But more significantly, a number of these genomic regions identified in the study contained genes involved in iron metabolization.

The hypothesis generated by the research is that abnormal blood iron metabolization may result in a number of age-related diseases. The irregular iron metabolization noted in the study is not enough to cause acute iron-related problems like hemochromatosis, but instead results in low-level, long-term iron accumulations in parts of the body that often suffer from age-related degeneration.

"We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life, and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” says Paul Timmers, an author on the new study from the University of Edinburgh. “We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease."

A growing body of research, for example, has been investigating the link between abnormal brain iron levels and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials are currently underway exploring whether lowering brain iron levels can slow, or prevent, cognitive decline.

Joris Deelan, from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, suggests plenty more work is necessary to unpack exactly how these specific genomic regions influence aging. But the new study certainly adds weight to the growing idea that impaired iron homeostasis could be a precursor to many age-related problems.

“Our ultimate aim is to discover how aging is regulated and find ways to increase health during aging,” says Deelan. “The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies."

The new research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Hmm, I always heard that Iron was bad for men in particular, but this is interesting...
Ralf Biernacki
Lowering iron levels in the blood is one of the ways our body controls bacteria, which are less tolerant of low iron than our own cells. So if lowering iron reduces these age-related diseases, that's strong evidence these diseases have microbial causes.
i wonder if exsanguinating is the only way to lower iron levels?
I have something to offer here that few, even medical professionals, seem to know. Many years ago, I read of a study that showed regular blood donors (men) had about half the heart attack rate of non-donors. This coincided with the fact that pre-menopausal women also had half the heart attack rate of men the same age, but post-menopause women had the same rate as men. Female blood donors, however, did not change their heart attack rate after menopause. So, the lesson learned here is that if you are a blood donor, you're not just helping others, you are helping yourself. Why don't the blood banks advertise this?
As a very frequent blood donor (approaching ten gallons now), I believe that it's becoming clear that donating blood makes you healthier in various small ways. I've been able to convince my children, and they have started early.

Maybe those old guys "bleeding" patients were on to something . . .