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

10 Health Benefits of Regular Exercise for Men

Terry Waters, a former college wrestler and baseball player, loved working out. He got real pleasure out of pushing himself hard at the gym, and he liked the feeling of tired but virtuous afterwards. He figured regular physical activity and its health benefits would always be a part of his life. Then came marriage, three kids, a demanding job as a software engineer in Boston — and a thousand and one excuses not to make it to the gym. “For a little while, you convince yourself you’re still in pretty...

Read the 10 Health Benefits of Regular Exercise for Men 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