Iron causes atherosclerosis

Sometimes charts and graphs are worth thousands of words.

The following charts come from the article “Body Iron Stores and the Risk of Carotid Atherosclerosis”.(1)

iron causes atherosclerosis

Incidence of carotid atherosclerosis in population 40 to 59 years old by sex, menopausal status, and ferritin concentrations.

Ferritin is the most common measure of body iron stores. In the above chart, the cutoff of 50 μg/L (same as ng/ml) which, according to the authors, represents the 33rd percentile in men. In other words, only one-third of men between ages 40 and 59 had a ferritin level of 50 or less, which gives them low risk of carotid atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries in the neck.

In turn, carotid atherosclerosis greatly increases the risk of stroke. We can be sure that many of these people with carotid atherosclerosis are also having problems with their coronary arteries, leading to increased heart attack risk.

Men at that age have more than 3 times the risk of carotid atherosclerosis as do fertile women, likely in the main due to higher iron stores. Men with ferritin > 50 had 16 times the risk as those with ferritin < 50 (4.8 vs o.3).


Risk of atherosclerosis by quintiles of ferritin.

Risk of atherosclerosis by quintiles of ferritin.

It can be seen that risk rises starting right from level I, which at the upper limit of 36 is enough to prevent iron deficiency. The average male ferritin level in the US is 137, or within the level IV quintile, and many men have levels that put them in quintile V, i.e. at high risk. Those in level V had about 5 times the risk of those in level I.

Iron is a potent pro-oxidant, and stimulates lipid peroxidation and protein malfunction, and this is why it wrecks arteries. Ferritin is the “safe-storage” form of iron, but free radicals in cells can cause release of iron atoms from ferritin, thence to damage cells and tissues.

The lesson is simple: keep ferritin levels low to avoid hardening of the arteries and subsequent strokes and heart attacks.

I wrote much more on this in my book, Dumping Iron.


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Leave a Comment:

Tony says March 29, 2016

You really are not going to rest until I give blood.

I’m planning on donating on or around tax day this year, in honor of blood-suckers everywhere. If only the 1040 lowered iron. On a serious note, I’ve been having trouble sleeping more than 6 hours/night for the past few years (50 yrs old this year), and tend to grind my teeth at night. Haven’t found anything that helps, not sleep hygiene, not cutting caffeine, etc. Will be curious to see if reducing ferritin levels has an effect.

Thanks for your work on this, will be buying the book soon.

    P. D. Mangan says March 29, 2016

    Haha, Tony. As far as not resting until you donate, I’m just playing on my strengths here, since virtually no one else is talking about this important topic.

    Re sleep, I’ve had very similar problems. I don’t grind my teeth, but I do clench, sometimes hard enough that my jaw is sore in the morning. My dentist has attributed some of my gum recession to it, though I don’t know whether clenching your teeth would do that. I went through a number of years only sleeping about that long. You don’t do any shift work by any chance? Because I used to, and that really messes with sleep.

    I’d recommend using f.lux and or Twilight for computers/tablets if you don’t already. Frankly, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) has been a lifesaver for me.

RT says March 31, 2016

Reading your book on iron, great material! Wanted to share something I found on tea:

Black, green, white and oolong teas all come from the same plant, the Camellia Sinensis. What differentiates each type of tea is the age of the plant when it is picked, and the length of time the plant is processed. White tea is picked the earliest and is the least processed. This leads many researchers to believe that of all teas, white may retain the highest levels of the health-promoting antioxidants already commonly known in black and green teas.

And most interestingly from: and

White tea is better than green tea and EGCG in preventing breakdown of skin collagen and elastin. Then perhaps white tea should also be better at chelating iron too than green tea, and white tea should be the tea of choice

    P. D. Mangan says March 31, 2016

    Hey, RT, glad you like the book. Thanks for that info, I did not know that about white tea. I figured that since it was white it didn’t have much in the way of polyphenols, guess I was wrong. Thanks!

Rob H says March 31, 2016

Good morning Dennis,

I’m currently in the middle of reading ‘Dumping Iron’ – what a fascinating read. One question has already sprung to mind: you state that when scientists added methionine to the diet of lab animals, they accumulate more iron and die sooner. As you know, adding the cheap amino acid glycine to the diet ameliorates the negative effects of methionine. The big question is – is glycine doing that by causing more iron to be excreted rather than absorbed? If that is the case then supplementing with glycine may be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to ‘dump iron’. Do you know if any researchers out there have come to that conclusion?

    P. D. Mangan says April 1, 2016

    Hi Rob, I don’t know whether anyone has looked into that, and doubt they have. As far as I know there are only 1 or 2 studies connecting glycine with methionine in terms of health and longevity. I couldn’t even find a study that measured iron in methionine-restricted animals; I had to go with the one that found increased iron with methionine supplementation. Glad you find the book a good read. It’s going to be published in Germany in translation.

Does Fungal Infection Cause Male Pattern Baldness and Heart Disease? - Rogue Health and Fitness says January 7, 2017

[…] High iron (ferritin) is also associated with heart disease. The mechanism usually postulated is increased oxidative stress of the walls of arteries; iron is a very reactive metal capable of damaging biological structures. […]

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