Iron Supplements May Damage DNA Within 10 Minutes


Scientists from Imperial College London found that concentrations of iron, just like those given in standard treatments for iron deficiency, may cause DNA damage within 10 minutes after coming in contact with the body's cells.

In the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers used human endothelial cells that are found in the linings of blood vessels. They added an iron solution of 10 micromolar, which is similar to the concentration in the blood after consuming one iron tablet.

The researchers found that the endothelial cells treated with the iron solution activated DNA repair systems within 10 minutes, which implies that the DNA became damaged in some way. The study sheds light on the importance of being careful when prescribing iron supplements to patients.

"We already knew that iron could be damaging to cells in very high doses," says senior author Claire Shovlin from the National Lung and Heart Institute. .

"However, in this study we found that when we applied the kinds of levels of iron you would find in the blood stream after taking an iron tablet, this also seemed to be able to trigger cell damage - at least in the laboratory," she adds.

Though the results of the study are significant, Shovlin reiterates that the study is an early observation at a laboratory setting. She notes that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of iron on the body.

What Is Iron?

Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the different parts of the body. Iron deficiency anemia happens when there are fewer red blood cells than usual.

If there is a lack of healthy, oxygen-transporting red blood cells, the body would be deprived of oxygen. This may lead to fatigue, weakness and for pregnant women, an increased risk of giving birth to premature babies.

Where Can One Get Iron?

Normally, iron comes from the food people eat. Green leafy vegetables, bread and breakfast cereals are some food items rich in iron. Other sources are fish, eggs, red meat, beans and lentils. Most diets contain about 10 mg/day of iron.

Who Should Take Iron Supplements?

There are many people who need an additional supply of iron. For example, pregnant women need extra iron because it is important for the development of their baby. Some women are particularly prone to losing their iron stores due to heavy periods. People can also suffer from a depleted iron supply if they suffered from blood loss, such as women who gave birth, those who donated blood and those who underwent surgery.

Photo: Ed Uthman | Flickr 

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