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Increased Blood Iron Levels Linked to Reduced Parkinsonís Disease Risk

Increased iron levels in the blood are associated with a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to a new study which appears in the June 2013 issue of PLoS One.

Researchers were interested in the relationship between iron and PD risk because of conflicting results of past studies.  For example, increased iron levels have been observed in the areas of the brain that are affected by PD. Yet, low iron levels in the blood (anemia), have been associated with increased risk for PD.

This study was conducted by an international research team, led by Irene Pichler, Ph.D., of Imperial College, London. This was the first study of iron and PD risk to use a method of genetic analysis known as Mendelian randomization, which can be used to estimate the effects of biomarkers (such as iron) on disease. Studying more than 100,000 people, researchers identified genes known to modify iron levels and compared them to genetic studies of 20,809 people with PD and 88,892 without PD, then applied analysis to estimate the effect of iron levels on PD risk.

Results

  •  Estimated higher iron levels in the blood are associated with a three percent reduction in the risk of Parkinson’s disease for every 10 µg/dL increase in iron.

What Does It Mean?

Iron metabolism is likely very important in PD. However, as shown in this study, it is equally likely that the association between Parkinson’s and iron is complex. This study provides indirect evidence that increased iron levels in the blood are associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease. The study only looked at genes already known to naturally influence blood iron levels. This would be similar to asking the question if people with genes leading to high levels of cholesterol have a different risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those without the genes.

Further research is needed to confirm this finding, and understand the relationship between iron and Parkinson’s disease.

This is not the first time that the relationship between iron levels and Parkinson’s disease has been investigated.  In past studies, researchers had noticed significant quantities of iron in the brains of people with PD. This study is different in that it look at levels of iron in the blood. Previous studies of blood iron showed conflicting results, but the majority of studies including this one, suggest that low iron levels in blood are associated with PD.

Right now, it is not clear how iron levels in the blood influence the iron levels in the brain in PD. Therefore, the potential development of new dietary and pharmaceutical treatments might treat PD by increasing blood iron, by decreasing stored iron in the brain or by using both strategies.

Given the complex relations between iron and PD it is too early to recommend taking iron supplements for PD. However, those who suffer from anemia irrespective of PD, should seek medical attention to explore the cause of anemia and to treat it.

Reference: Pichler I, Del Greco M.F, Gogele M, Lill CM, Bertram, L, et al. (2013) Serum Iron Levels and the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Study. PLos Med 10(6): e1001462. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001462 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001462

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Source Date: Aug 15 2013