Iron Levels Linked To Stroke Damage

People with high levels of iron in their bodies may be at higher risk for severe damage to the brain after a stroke. People at high risk of having a stroke who have high iron levels might benefit from cutting back on iron in the diet. An ischemic stroke -- the most common type of stroke -- is caused by a disruption in blood flow to the brain, often due to a blocked artery in the neck or head.

Researchers measured levels of ferritin (which indicates the total amount of iron in the body) in the spinal fluid and blood of 100 stroke patients. The investigators divided the patients into two groups -- those whose condition remained stable or began to improve after the stroke, and those whose condition progressively worsened. Compared with people whose condition stabilized or improved, those with progressive damage had significantly higher levels of ferritin.

Researchers suspect that increased iron levels lead to greater brain damage by increasing the formation of molecules called free radicals, which can damage cells. In addition, high levels of iron can promote the release of glutamate, a brain chemical involved in the death of brain cells. In the study, glutamate levels were highest in people with progressing stroke.

Neurology April 25, 2000;54:1568-1574

COMMENT: Another extension of the danger of multivitamin and mineral supplements. Most of these supplements have iron as one of the minerals. One must be hyper-cautious with iron supplements and not take any unless one is absolutely convinced that they need it. Generally, the best test is the one the authors of this study performed which is a serum ferritin level. If the level is below 20, this nearly always indicates a deficiency of iron and the need for replacement. If the level is above 80 (unless one has an active inflammatory condition) it usually indicates a need to remove excess iron through the use of a blood transfusion. Normally, this is not a problem for menstruating women as their blood loss every month helps them rid their body of excess iron. However, men do not have this route of excretion for iron available to them which may partially explain the reason they have higher degrees of heart disease than women prior to the age of 50.

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