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Connection between heart disease and iron questioned

CRAWLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In 1981 it was proposed that high body stores of iron, more specifically serum ferritin stores, are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The iron is believed to help catalyze oxidation reactions that produce free radicals, which in turn lead to increased lipid peroxidation and subsequent CHD. Several studies have supported the hypothesis while others have not. Now researchers at the University of Western Australia weigh in with the results of a new large study that does not support the idea that high iron stores are a risk factor for CHD.

The study involved 1612 men and women who were enrolled in the 1981 Busselton Health Survey and who were free of cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment. The participants were between the ages of 40 and 89 years when first joining the survey in 1981. By 1998 217 of the participants had either died from CHD or been admitted to hospital for CHD and 118 had suffered a stroke. Serum ferritin levels were measured in cases and 450 random controls in samples frozen since 1981. There was no indication that higher serum ferritin levels were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CHD and stroke).

The researchers conclude that accumulated evidence from prospective studies does not support a connection between iron stores and cardiovascular disease risk, but does support further work in the area, especially studies involving women and studies aimed at investigating interactions/synergies between serum ferritin level and other risk factors.
Knuiman, M.W., et al. Serum ferritin and cardiovascular disease: a 17-year follow-up study in Busselton, Western Australia. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 158, July 15, 2003, pp. 144-49

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