Food and Behaviour Research

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The role of iron in type 2 diabetes in humans

Rajpathak SN, Crandall JP, Wylie-Rosett J, Kabat GC, Rohan TE, Hu FB. (2009) Biochim Biophys Acta. 1790(7): 671-81. Epub 2008 May 3. 

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The role of micronutrients in the etiology of type 2 diabetes is not well established. Several lines of evidence suggest that iron play may a role in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

Iron is a strong pro-oxidant and high body iron levels are associated with increased level of oxidative stress that may elevate the risk of type 2 diabetes. Several epidemiological studies have reported a positive association between high body iron stores, as measured by circulating ferritin level, and the risk of type 2 diabetes and of other insulin resistant states such as the metabolic syndrome, gestational diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. In addition, increased dietary intake of iron, especially that of heme iron, is associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in apparently healthy populations.

Results from studies that have evaluated the association between genetic mutations related to iron metabolism have been inconsistent. Further, several clinical trials have suggested that phlebotomy induced reduction in body iron levels may improve insulin sensitivity in humans. However, no interventional studies have yet directly evaluated the effect of reducing iron intake or body iron levels on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Such studies are required to prove the causal relationship between moderate iron overload and diabetes risk.