Skip to content

    Men's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Too Much Iron in Your Blood?

    Then donate a pint. It may protect you against heart disease.

    WebMD Feature

    May 1, 2000 (Atlanta) -- At a time when blood banks report dangerously low supplies, the best argument for rolling up your sleeve is still to do someone else some good. But if University of Florida researcher Jerome Sullivan, MD, is right -- and there's new evidence to suggest he is -- giving blood could also save your life.

    Here's why. Each time you give blood, you remove some of the iron it contains. High blood iron levels, Sullivan believes, can increase the risk of heart disease. Iron has been shown to speed the oxidation of cholesterol, a process thought to increase the damage to arteries that ultimately leads to cardiovascular disease.

    Recommended Related to Men

    Alonzo Mourning's All-Star Rebound

    First and foremost, we're trying to bring as much attention as possible to kidney disease; educate the general public about risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and family history; share the warning signs and the importance of regularly seeing your doctor; and highlight organ donation. So many people have kidney disease and just don't know it, which is why it's so important to create a relationship with your doctor. The National Kidney Foundation provides free kidney screenings...

    Read the Alonzo Mourning's All-Star Rebound article > >

    Sullivan has long suspected that blood iron levels help explain why a man's risk of heart disease begins earlier than a woman's. Women lose blood -- and lower their iron levels -- each time they menstruate. Men, on the other hand, begin storing iron in body tissues starting in their twenties, which is just about the time their heart attack danger begins to climb. According to Victor Herbert, MD, a hematologist at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, there are normally about 1,000 milligrams of iron "stored" in the average adult man's body but only about 300 milligrams in a premenopausal woman's. Once women stop menstruating, however, their iron levels -- and their heart disease risk -- begin to climb, eventually matching that of men.

    Not everyone's convinced by Sullivan's notion. "I do not believe there is proof of an association between iron level and the risk of heart disease in men with normal iron metabolism," says Peter Tomasulo, MD, a director at the International Federation of Red Cross Societies. "The data is preliminary at best." Most scientists, in fact, still think estrogen is probably the most important reason why women are protected from heart disease until they reach menopause.

    But several recent findings lend support to the possibility that iron levels play a role. In research reported last year in the journal Circulation, Swedish scientists found that men with a genetic abnormality that causes slightly elevated blood iron levels had a 2.3-fold increase in heart attack risk. A second study published in the same journal found that women with the abnormal gene were also at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Together, Sullivan believes, those studies offer new support for his iron hypothesis.

    Today on WebMD

    man coughing
    Men shouldn’t ignore.
    man swinging in hammock
    And how to get out it.
     
    shaving tools
    On your shaving skills.
    muscular man flexing
    Four facts that matter.
     
    Food Men 10 Foods Boost Male Health
    Slideshow
    Thoughtful man sitting on bed
    Quiz
     
    Man taking blood pressure
    Slideshow
    doctor holding syringe
    Slideshow
     
    Condom Quiz
    Quiz
    thumbnail_angry_couple_in_bed
    Slideshow
     
    man running
    Quiz
    older couple in bed
    Video