by: Dr. Mercola
July 19, 2012
Iron is essential for virtually every life form, including humans, where it is a key part of various proteins and enzymes, involved in the transport of oxygen and the regulation of cell growth and differentiation, among other uses.
One of the most important roles of iron is to provide hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells) a mechanism through which it can bind to oxygen and carry it throughout your tissues, as without proper oxygenation your cells quickly start dying.
If you have too little iron, you may experience fatigue, decreased immunity or iron-deficiency anemia, which can be serious if left untreated.
However, if you have more iron than your body needs to satisfy your hemoglobin requirement (for cell oxygenation), the excess becomes a dangerous surplus.
Your body has a very limited capacity to excrete iron, which means it can build up in your tissues and organs, a dangerous occurrence because iron is a potent oxidizer and can damage your body tissues contributing to serious health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Reducing Iron Levels May Protect Your Brain from Alzheimer’s
High iron levels in your blood can lead to the production of free radicals that can damage neurons in your brain. It’s also believed that iron accumulates at high levels, and is extremely reactive in the beta-amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
A new animal study revealed that reducing iron levels in the blood triggered levels of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau protein, which disrupts the ability of neurons to conduct electrical signals, to return to normal.1
Experts on metal metabolism in the body said the research highlights the role of metal ions in the development of Alzheimer’s, as excess iron accumulation in the brain is a consistent observation in Alzheimer’s disease.
Separate research also showed that reducing excess iron in your brain can alleviate Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice,2 while measuring brain iron has been suggested as a way to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.3
Iron is also known to accumulate specifically in brain regions associated with memory and thought processes, which are gradually lost as Alzheimer’s progresses. At this time it’s not entirely clear whether the excess iron is the result of external sources, such as supplements or metal pans, or due to a genetic predisposition to absorbing too much iron or biochemical changes that cause an imbalance internally — likely it’s a combination of factors.
What is known is that too much iron in the wrong places is clearly toxic, and when accumulated in neurons may be a “final end-stage event in neurodegeneration.”4
How do You Know if Your Iron Levels are High?
Checking your iron levels is done through a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test. I believe this is one of the most important tests that everyone should have done on a regular basis as part of a preventive, proactive health screen. The test measures the carrier molecule of iron, a protein found inside cells called ferritin, which stores the iron. If your ferritin levels are low it means your iron levels are also low.
The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 ng/ml. Below 20 is a strong indicator that you are iron deficient, and above 80 suggests you have an iron surplus. The ideal range is between 40-60 ng/ml. The higher the number over 100 the worse the iron overload, with levels over 300 being particularly toxic and will eventually cause serious damage in nearly everyone that sustains those levels long term.