People with heart disease have higher levels of iron in their blood than the general population, a study shows.
A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that people with the highest levels of red blood cells also have the highest risk of developing the disease.
“Red blood cells have a function, to carry oxygen around our bodies,” said Dr. Andrew P. Dyer, a professor of medicine and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Program at Harvard Medical School.
“If there is an imbalance in this oxygen delivery, it can lead to a number of health problems including heart disease.”
People with more red blood cell cells have higher than average levels of the enzyme called ferritin, which converts iron into a more potent form of oxygen, and higher levels than those with lower levels of ferritins.
“Iron plays a very important role in the heart, so if there is a high risk of having a heart attack, then we know that the iron intake should be higher,” said Dyer.
The study looked at people with a high-risk of developing heart disease, including people with type 2 diabetes, people with heart attacks, people who smoke, and those with heart failure.
People with elevated ferritino levels in their red blood count were at the highest level of risk for developing heart attack or death.
“The reason that red blood has a role in blood clotting is because ferritinos is a very specific part of our blood and we are constantly pumping that oxygen around the body,” said David C. Dziczek, a cardiologist and director at the Harvard Heart Institute.
“It is the oxygen carrying component of the blood that helps to keep our blood vessels open.”
The study also found that people who had high ferritrin levels in the blood had the lowest risk of heart disease.
The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, but the researchers hope that other studies will follow up the study to see if iron supplements can help people with high red blood counts.
“We have no idea why red bloods have a role to play in preventing heart disease,” Dyer said.
“But the reason that we are seeing these effects in people with elevated red blood levels is because of how our body stores iron.”
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard School of Public Health.