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The Link Between Iron and Alzheimer’s Disease

June 5, 2018 by

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that continues to be a very difficult burden to bare. It is a progressive disease that impairs memory and other critical cognitive functions. Because aging is the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, everyone is at risk because there is no stopping that.

Experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by one of two proteins, either one called tau, or another called beta-amyloid. With age, these proteins either disturb the signaling between neurons or they kill them. However, new studies have shown that iron accumulation may be a third possible cause.

Researchers have recently looked at two areas of the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. They used advanced brain-imaging techniques to compare the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that shows signs of damage in the early stages of the disease, and the thalamus, which is typically not affected until much later. In this study, they found that the tissues in the hippocampus were damaged due to excessive levels of iron, but this was not found to be the case in the thalamus.

While former Alzheimer’s researcher has only focused on the accumulation of tau or beta-amyloid, causing plaques that are associated with the disease, researchers are considering the idea that the breakdown of tissue begins in a different way. As myelin is destroyed, which is the fatty sheath that protects the nerves in the brain, communication between neurons is disrupted and plaque begins to build up. The plaques continue to destroy myelin, which interrupts the communication in the brain and causes cells to die. This all leads to the classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Myelin is created by oligodendrocytes cells, which have the highest iron content of any brain cells aside from myelin. Evidence has shows that the possibility exists that the levels of iron in the brain could possibly be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases. It is important to have iron in your blood to ensure proper cell function, but having too much of it may lead to oxidative damage, which easily damages the brain.

The hypothesis that excess levels of iron in brain tissue causes the tissue damage that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease was tested by studying the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is responsible for forming memories. This was compared to the thalamus, which is not affected by Alzheimer’s disease until the end.

Using an MRI technique, researchers measured the amount of iron in the brain in 31 Alzheimer’s patients and 68 control subjects who were healthy.

The researchers found that the amount of iron in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease was increased in the hippocampus and was associated with tissue damage, but this was not the case in the healthy older control subject. Additionally, the researchers did not find excess iron to be present in the thalamus. This suggests that iron accumulation can be a contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Further, iron accumulation in the brain can be impacted with the modification of external factors, such as the amount of red meat you consume and the amount of iron dietary supplements you take. This means that it is important to watch how much iron is in your diet in order to maintain proper brain health.

Because of the possible damage that excess iron does to the human body, many pharmaceutical companies are beginning to develop drugs that are able to chelate the blood and decrease the amount of iron that is in tissues. These drugs could be used as treatments for people who have issues with high iron levels in their blood. Additionally, the advanced MRI technology could allow doctors to figure out which patients could benefit from these treatments the most.

If your iron level is high, the most effective way to bring it down and manage it on a regular basis is to donate blood. Adult males can donate blood two to three times a year when their iron levels are normal.

It is also important to avoid eating foods that are high in vitamin C at the same time that you are eating foods high in iron. This is because vitamin C increases iron absorption and will make your iron levels even higher. Alternatively, calcium binds to iron and therefore limits its absorption. This means that eating foods that are high in iron along with foods that are high in calcium is a good idea if you have high iron levels.

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