Higher blood iron levels may decrease your risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to an international study released Wednesday.
The researchers say the findings suggest increased blood iron levels may have a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease but simply taking iron supplements may not be the answer to prevention or a cure.
Ashley Ian Bush, director of the Oxidation Biology Unit at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, called the study “extremely important and exciting”, saying it enhances scientists’ understanding of the disease.
People with genes that raise plasma iron levels were found to be less at risk for developing Parkinson’s, and genetic abnormalities in iron regulation could cause iron build up in the brain, leading to PD, Bush explained.
“Since iron accumulates in the affected regions of the brain in PD, these findings indicate that the inability to move iron from the brain into the blood can cause the disease,” said Bush.
“This does not mean that being exposed to iron causes the disease, since, indeed, iron is needed for health. But these results tell us that a treatment that can assist in moving the iron in brain to tissue back into the blood might be a disease- modifying therapy,” he added.
George Mellick, chief investigator of Clinical Neurosciences at Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies at Griffith University, said the results should be taken in perspective, as the changes in risk are very small.
“At face value they showed that people who carry genes that slightly increase serum iron levels are at very slightly reduced risk for Parkinson’s Disease,” Mellick said.
If the mechanism behind these findings turns out to be, as Bush suspects, related to the body’s ability to transfer iron from the brain to the blood, increasing your iron intake may not have beneficial effects.
The experts agree that more research is needed. “Working out what the mechanisms are leading to these findings will be important before people consider introducing iron supplements as a treatment in patients,” said Mellick. “Meanwhile, taking your Mum’s advice and eating your greens is probably still a good idea,” he added.
One in every 350 Australians lives with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degeneration of neurons which affects control of body movements and can cause tremors. Symptoms can be managed but there is currently no cure.