Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Trouble with Iron Part III Diabetes

The Trouble with Iron Part III Diabetes

References: Cell MetabolismJ of Diabetes Research,

You were trained to think of iron as absolutely necessary to help fatigue. “Build up your blood!” and other such phrases are deep in our subconscious. We see blood and know it is the red of iron. Iron is critical for life, because it’s the key to carrying oxygen to the tissue so that we can make energy. No doubt, iron is important. But carrying oxygen is no mean feat, as it is such a reactive chemical, it needs the strong chemical bond of iron in heme to transport it. What happens when you get too much iron?

Two conditions of too much iron are thalassemia and hemochromatosis. Guess what happens to those folks? Hemochromatosis is also known as bronze diabetes. They fill up the islet cells of their pancreas with iron, and their insulin producing capacity fails. This can be reversed with removal of the iron.

And what happens to normal folks? Well, here again we find that the tendency to being diabetic goes along with the tendency to be iron overloaded. And the devil is in the details. It’s not just the total load of iron that causes damage. It’s not just the accumulation of iron in the islets of your pancreas. It’s the whole ecosystem effect of iron. Iron plays a role in every tissue that mediates energy metabolism, particularly the fat cell. There is a whole host of signaling that occurs when iron is present with intracellular and extracellular messaging. The nuance of it is still not anywhere close to being understood, but you can get a sense for its complexity by the review in Cell Metabolism.
And what have we done, with all of our good intentions, in America. We have devised guidelines for iron supplementation that serve young, pregnant women, well. We add iron to all our grains. It is the fortification you see on the label of every kind of flour product. When you eat most breakfast cereals, particularly the ones that claim to have you supplemented with great vitamins and minerals, you will find 18 mg of iron added to each serving. But it will also be in the flour of your bagel, your hotdog bun, your Danish, your french toast. And it interferes with your metabolism of carbs, immediately. On the spot.

This raises a fascinating conjecture. Is it the iron added to carbs that makes them so problematic for weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes? Hmmm. There is enough evidence around iron to make it a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. That also explains a few conundrums that the pure carbohydrate hypothesis doesn’t solve. For example, why is red meat so insulogenic? You eat a large bloody red steak, dripping with heme, and you get a huge spike in insulin. And it may not be just the red meat per se, because we see a stronger effect with processed meats. The evidence seems to lean towards more complicated and nuanced reasons, like the amount of AGE’s and ALEs. (If you knew what those were before you read this: you are a star. AGE’s are Advanced Glycation End Products – made by roasting meat with sugared sauces and ALEs are Advanced Lipo-oxidation Products, that occur with food preparation of meats with protein and high fat content.) However it occurs, iron is in the middle of it.
Here are some tests this hypothesis. First, one must look for high ferritin in folks who have high cholesterol, moderate blood glucose and elevated insulin: all the people we thought were overindulging in carbs. So far, I’m three for three. The last one had a ferritin over 600. Another test…..why can’t women lost weight after menopause? Answer: They stop losing iron with menses after menopause, accumulate iron and have their insulin go up. That makes them gain weight. Hmmm. Ever seen that happen? They go carb free and eat more meat, and don’t lose weight. Hmmm. I’m about 400 for 400 on that one.

WWW: What Will Work for Me. I’ve paid a lot of attention to this topic in my own life. Right now I’m reading labels and finding secret iron everywhere. At the picnic last night, I avoided the hamburger offering and had two olive oil salads instead. I had just read that the iron in spinach is tightly bound by oxalates. And what about Vitamin C? It increases iron absorption 400%. Complex, isn’t it?


Pop Quiz

  1. Too much iron in you can cause you to become insulin resistant, thereby leading to diabetes risk and obesity? T or F                                                                              Answer: Bingo. True
  2. The mechanism for this cause is well known. T or F                            Answer: Well, it’s well known now but the mechanism is still murky. Too complex. The phenomenon has been observed. And ferritin is deposited into insulin cells in the pancreas, but the cellular mechanism is much more nuanced, probably because iron is so tightly regulated and bound.
  3. You should know your iron level and it should be?                              Answer:  Ferritin of 40 or so.
  4. If your ferritin is too high, you can reduce it by?                                   Answer: giving blood to the Red Cross. Come on in and we will phlebotomize for you if the Blood Donor Center won’t or can’t do it.  (Leaches.  Blood letting.  Hand to hand combat.)
  5. This iron topic is a whole new way of interpreting the problem with carbohydrates, because………..?                                                                                           Answer: we added iron to virtually all carbs in Western societies. It may be the iron, and not the carbs.  This is conjecture for now, but it sure fits.

The Trouble with Iron – Part II – Your Brain on Iron

The Trouble with Iron – Part II Iron and Your Brain

References: The MindSpan DietNeuromolecular Medicine, Nature CommunicationsJournal Biol ChemUCLA Newsroom,

Ok you got it. You know the “AP” rule, antagonistic pleiotropy, from last week: what’s good for you at one age isn’t so good later. Young women need lots of iron to have babies. Young men need iron for their brains to develop. Young. As we get older, that changes and becomes “ANTAGONISTIC”.

What’s the trouble with iron? First of all, epidemiology. Men accumulate iron faster than women, and get Alzheimer’s younger than women. Women who have hysterectomies start accumulating iron sooner, and get dementia sooner.

Then there is pathology. All major brain diseases (Parkinson’sALSAlzheimer’s) are shown to accumulate iron in their region of damage. Iron is very reactive. With oxygen it’s a deadly combo. On our cars, we call it rust. In our brains, it wreaks havoc.
There are many mechanisms now being understood wherein iron is a problem in the brain. In essence, beta amyloid accumulates as a net effect of excess iron. And chelating that iron, in animal models, reduces the damage.

What do we see in human populations who have very little Alzheimer’s disease and who live to be 100 with healthy brains? First, they eat foods low in iron and live in parts of the world where there aren’t “fortified” grains (added iron). Their average serum ferritin is 20. In America, we call that deficient. More and more research is showing that ferritin in spinal fluid and blood predicts risk for AD. This is the perfect example of Estep’s “AP” rule. The iron we needed in youth to make babies isn’t so good for us as we age. Those, whose scales are tipped to eating more iron by intention or serendipity, are at greater risk.

The question arises, how do I get rid of excess iron? Rule #1: when in a deep hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. Stop eating iron rich foods. That included fortified wheat products. Cereals like Total contain 18 mg of iron per serving. Don’t. Steak. Don’t. Find flour that is not fortified. Find bread that is not fortified. Consider taking supplements that deplete iron. Wheat grass juice is uniquely good. Go to the Blood Center and give a pint. Often. Let them have double red cells. Get your serum ferritin to 20. AKA: KNOW YOUR FERRITIN.

www.What Will Work for Me. I’m changing my meat eating. I’m looking for unenriched flour. I just measured my ferritin and I’m over 100. Hmmm. I just might give some blood away. I threw out our red colored ibuprofen (iron coating).


Pop Quiz


  1. Iron is good for your brain. True or false                                    Answer: Ha, Trick question. It appears to be important for you when you are young, but too much is a deadly toxin as you get old. That is the AP Rule: Antagonistic Pleiotropy.


  1. We have added iron to many of our foods on the belief that it is good for us. T or F        Answer: True.


  1. People around the world who have the best functioning brains, the longest, have much lower blood iron in the form of ferritin than we have thought was safe. T or F                  Answer: Yup. Average ferritin of 20


  1. Beta amyloid in the brain might be accumulating as a side effect of our brain’s attempt to get rid of extra iron. T or F                                                        Answer: Again. Yup


  1. Getting rid of excess iron might be the only way to reduce our risk for the dangers of iron. The easiest way to do that is……?                                 Answer: Donate blood.