The Trouble with Iron – Part II Iron and Your Brain
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’s, ALS, Alzheimer’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).
- 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.
- We have added iron to many of our foods on the belief that it is good for us. T or F Answer: True.
- 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
- 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
- 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.