Published on 5 January 2017

Too much iron in the body is believed to have an effect on how the body breaks down sugar in the blood – and could be a potential risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

A recently published report by Dr Alex O Aregbesola of the University of Eastern Finland found that even a mildly raised level of body iron could lead to type 2 diabetes.

The study reported that while excess body iron building up was a known risk factor of type 2 diabetes and could be passed on hereditarily, the results showed that elevated iron levels could also be a risk factor in the general population.

Taking iron supplements that have not been prescribed by your doctor could be a health risk

In addition, the results showed that men could be at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than women due to storing up more iron than women.

Men had 61% higher cases of iron and a 46% increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to women. At comparable age groups, men were found to build up more iron than women, and iron explained about two-fifths and one-fifth of the gender difference in type 2 diabetes cases and rates respectively.

However, having a moderate amount of iron stored in the body was found to be “safer” than a lack of iron.

The link between body iron and reduced blood sugar (glucose) metabolism was strongest among people showing signs of “pre-diabetes”.

Unhealthy eating habits linked with the rise in new cases of type 2 diabetes include excessive intake of iron, which can be found in many foods including brown rice, nuts, eggs, dried fruit, and taking iron supplements that had not been prescribed by a doctor.

Iron is a micronutrient that is needed in the formation of some essential body proteins and enzymes, like haemoglobin, cytochromes and peroxidase. However, it is harmful when too much is stored in the body. It promotes the release of free radicals (groups of atoms) that damage the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin. It can also decrease insulin sensitivity in peripheral (away from the central trunk) tissues and organs involved in glucose metabolism.

The study aimed to look at the link between body iron stores and glucose stability and type 2 diabetes among middle-aged men and women representing the general population and living in the eastern part of Finland.

Dr Aregbesola said: “This study provides a new body of evidence that mildly elevated body iron is an important risk factor of glucose metabolism derangement, which contributes to the increase in the prevalence and incidence of type 2 diabetes.”

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