Controlling iron levels could help you age better and live longer, new study finds

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Researchers found that ageing is due to a decline in homeostasis, which leads to the onset of age-related diseases and death
  • A study conducted in 2020 examined the influence of blood iron levels on humans’ lifespan, 'healthspan' and longevity
  • The researchers found that excessive iron in the blood was linked to premature death

The inevitable process of human ageing is influenced by factors such as one's lifestyle habits, environment and genetics. As a result, the rate at which people age differs among individuals. 

A study conducted in 2020 and published in Nature Communications found that blood iron levels could play a role in how long one can expect to live. 

The study examined the genetic information of over one million individuals over three databases of genome-wide association studies (GWAS), and was conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany.

The researchers’ method

The researchers focused on three ageing phenotypes, such as lifespan (the number of years lived), healthspan (the number of years lived without comorbidities) and longevity (reaching an advanced age).

By using a Mendelian randomisation (MR) statistical analysis method to limit bias and determine causation, the researchers found ten regions of the genome linked to the three ageing phenotypes.

The gene linked to iron was overrepresented in the analysis of the three phenotypes, the researchers stated.

While conducting the study, the researchers identified the APOE and FOXO3 genetic markers which have been highlighted as important for human ageing and overall health.

“It is clear from the association of age-related diseases and the well-known ageing loci APOE and FOXO3 that we are capturing the human ageing process to some extent,” the researchers state in the paper. 

Iron levels and ageing 

These findings reveal that the genes responsible for metabolising iron are partly responsible for ageing, and an excess of iron in the blood is linked to an increased chance of dying earlier, the study states. 

It is well documented in previous studies that blood iron levels are determined by diet and have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, according to the researchers. 

Future applications of the researchers’ work offer exciting prospects for reducing the effects of ageing.  

“Follow-up work on the genes we have highlighted, will eventually lead to therapeutic targets that can reduce the burden of age-related diseases, extend the healthy years of life and increase the chances of becoming long-lived without long periods of morbidity,” the researchers conclude. 

READ | Getting enough sleep but still feeling tired? You could be running low on iron

READ | Are you at risk of an iron deficiency?

WATCH | When you don't have enough healthy red blood cells

Image credit: Getty Images

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
33% - 9328 votes
67% - 18826 votes