IRON may have protective qualities against heart disease, suggests a new study examining iron levels in relation to coronary artery disease (CAD), by a team of researchers from Imperial College London and University College London, London, UK, a finding that could pave the way for new treatments in the future. Previous research has suggested that iron levels may be linked to heart disease, but, until now, its role had been unclear due to confounding factors. Therefore, this study was undertaken to attempt to establish causality between iron status and CAD. CAD can lead to angina or even heart attack, and it is believed that >370,000 adults in the USA die as a result of the condition each year, making the development of new treatment methods of paramount importance.
Utilising Mendelian randomisation, >48,000 people’s genetic data were analysed, with a particular focus on single nucleotide polymorphisms, to try and identify those that could operate as biomarkers for high or low iron status. Following this, examination was carried out on a combined dataset of >124,000 people with CAD, screening for the relevant single nucleotide polymorphisms. The results of the analysis were positive, confirming the hypothesis that higher levels of iron reduce the chance of an individual developing CAD. These results will need to be verified by further testing; researchers will seek to examine the efficacy of an iron supplement to protect against CAD.
Possibly the most exciting aspect of this finding is the simplicity with which iron levels in the body can be modified. “We have shown that having low iron status increases the risk of CAD, but this does not mean correcting that resolves the increased risk. What we have highlighted is a potential therapeutic target that we did not know about before, and one that’s easily modifiable,” explained Dr Dipender Gill, Imperial College London. “Just as when someone’s cholesterol levels are high we give them a statin, […] if their iron levels are low, we could give them an iron tablet to minimise their risk of cardiovascular disease. For those people who have already had a heart attack, and whose iron status is low, we could potentially reduce their risk of having another heart attack just by giving them an iron tablet.” Dr Gill added that further investigation was required to assess this theory.