By Annie Hauser
People who have type 2 diabetes — a disease that affects more than 23 million Americans that's caused by unhealthy eating and exercise choices, family history, ethnicity, and age — are unable to respond properly to the insulin produced by their pancreas. But not everyone who has these risk factors develops the disease. Why?
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen say in Cell Metabolism that they might have found the answer.
Iron-transport proteins help carry iron throughout the body and store iron in the blood, among other functions. But they also create toxic oxygen radicals in the blood, which can damage tissue and cause disease. That damage includes attacking beta cells in the pancreas, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Mice without this particular iron transporter showed protection against type 2 diabetes.
Iron and Your Health
Previous research has documented a connection between iron overload in the blood and diabetes risk in large-population studies of humans with diabetes. But this is the first time researchers have found a link between damaging inflammation and iron transport, which appears to be the underlying cause of the higher risk. The next step is to determine whether changes in iron content in the body can reduce the risk of diabetes, explained researcher Thomas Mandrup-Poulsen, MD, in a release.
"Only then will we be able to advise people at risk of diabetes not to take iron supplements, or recommend drug treatment to reduce the amount of iron in the body," he said. The research might also be applied to heart health and liver health, as cardiac-muscle and liver cells have both been shown to be sensitive to iron.
Iron is an essential mineral. It helps deliver oxygen to cells and regulates cell growth and differentiation, the National Institutes of Health says. It is recommended that women consume 18 mg of iron per day and men consume 8 mg. Iron is found in meat, poultry, seafood, soybeans, legumes, spinach, and iron-fortified cereals, among other sources. Too much iron can cause iron toxicity, an acute condition that causes nausea, vomiting, damage to internal organs, and even death, so patients should not take iron supplements before consulting their doctors and supplements should always be kept away from children.