Iron is necessary throughout life for stimulating the production of hemoglobin, the red blood cell pigment that carries oxygen to our cells. However, research indicates that iron overload, or hemochromatosis, can actually increase your risk for cardiovascular problems and harm your heart health.
How Elevated Iron Levels Affect Heart Health
Hemochromatosis is an acquired or hereditary defect of iron metabolism in which excess iron is deposited in tissues and not available for oxygen transport. It’s estimated that 10 percent of Americans carry the gene for hereditary hemochromatosis.
Iron is stored in muscles and other tissues, and unless it is lost through menstruation or donating blood, toxic iron levels can accumulate in your system over the years. One study found that those with excessive iron levels were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack, and that every one percent increase in ferritin found in iron translated into a four percent increase in heart attack risk.
Excessive iron levels are one reason why postmenopausal women are at greater risk for heart attack than women who are still menstruating. Postmenopausal women lose the protection of regular menstrual iron reduction, and their iron levels have been found to rise steadily after menopause.
To find out if your iron levels are healthy, ask your doctor to perform a special iron test called serum ferritin. Ideally, you want your iron level to be less than 80 mg/L (for women) and less than 90 mg/L (for men).
Now It's Your Turn: What do you do to monitor your heart health?