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The Grisanti Report

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Report #1233

Excess Iron Damages Blood Vessels

Reprint from Dr. Mercola: www.mercola.com

Although iron is an essential and important nutrient, excessive levels can cause significant harm. A new study has shown that excess iron can cause damage to the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels, boosting a person's chances of developing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart attack.

The mechanism of action of this effect seems to be that the high iron levels impede the action of nitric oxide, a chemical released by the endothelium, which aids in keeping blood vessels relaxed.

According to study lead investigator Dr. Hidehiro Matsuoka of Kurume Medical School, consuming high amounts of iron over the long term may increase iron levels in the body. He also said that people should get regularly tested for high iron levels if they are over 40 and have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.


  • Researchers injected 10 healthy volunteers with high doses of iron (0.7 milligrams per kilogram body weight) and used ultrasound imaging to observe arterial wall functioning.

  • The excess iron raised levels of malondialdehyde, a chemical marker for oxidation, and inhibited normal endothelial function.

  • As a separate part of the study, researchers also monitored the effects of lowering iron blood levels in 10 cigarette smokers and found that this caused endothelial function to return to normal.

The study also could help to explain why premenopausal women have less heart disease, since iron is removed from the body each month during menstruation.

Meeting of the American Heart Association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research October 2000

IMPORTANT COMMENT: I have warned about the dangers of iron many times before in this newsletter. It is a potentially dangerous supplement and it needs to be used very cautiously, especially in those with an increased risk of heart disease. I almost always run a serum ferritin level on someone before I recommend going on iron.

Ferritin is an iron carrying protein and when its levels drop below 20 that is a sign of iron deficiency. I have seen ferritin levels as low as 2. Occasionally ferritin will be greater than 20 and the person still may need iron. Those with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, will have falsely elevated ferritin levels.

Men are more prone to iron overload since women lose some iron every month through menstruation. Donating blood is an excellent way to lower iron levels if needed.

The best form of iron, if it is required, is that obtained from red meat, as it is the most highly available form for absorption.


A diet that is high in heme iron, found mainly in meat and meat products, is associated with a greater risk of myocardial infarction, especially fatal MIs, in otherwise healthy elderly subjects living in the Netherlands. The authors note that the association between elevated levels of heme iron and MI in the presence of other risk factors is compatible with the hypothesis that iron plays a role in promoting LDL cholesterol oxidation. The investigators suggest that iron may enhance this process by catalyzing the production of oxygen free radicals, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Am J Epidemiol 1999;149:421-8

COMMENT: A simple lab test that can be done to determine if you have too much iron in your body is a serum ferritin level. Normally this is used to screen for iron deficiency as levels below 20 indicate the need for some type of iron supplementation. However, levels over 100 are not healthy either. Generally, one can donate blood to reduce iron levels in these situations or have therapeutic phlebotomies to lower the iron. Ideally, the ferritin level should be between 20 and 80. Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, however, will falsely raise the level.


2001 Ronald J. Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O
NOTICE: This information is provided for educational purposes. Any medical procedures, dietary changes, or nutritional supplements discussed herein should only be undertaken on the advice of a qualified physician.

Ronald J. Grisanti, D.C., D.A.B.C.O
The Grisanti Center for Integrative Medicine
4200 East North Street, Suite 14 Greenville, SC 29615
(864) 292-0226 FAX: (864) 268-7022

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This page was revised on July 20, 2002