One global study that investigated the role of iron in a variety of health conditions has found that excess iron may lead to a higher risk of bacterial skin infections. Iron is an essential mineral. All human cells contain some iron, but around 70 percent of it occurs in red blood cells. Iron plays a key role in producing haemoglobin. This is a complex protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Iron helps eliminate fatigue, supports the immune system, improves muscle strength and prevents anaemia. Anaemia is condition wherein there are not enough healthy blood cells to supply the body with an adequate amount of oxygen. The symptoms of anaemia include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness. There are different forms of anaemia, and its severity can range from mild to severe.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anaemia affects around 1.62 billion people worldwide. People with mild iron deficiency anaemia usually do not experience complications, but if they do not receive treatment, it can lead to heart problems, liver disease, diabetes, issues during pregnancy, or delayed growth and development in children.
Now, researchers have conducted a study to uncover the impact of both low and high iron levels. They analyzed the role of iron in a variety of health conditions, using genetic and clinical data from about 500,000 people in the UK Biobank. One recent study led by UniSA in collaboration with Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and the University of Ioannina in Greece found that high iron levels protect against anaemia and prevent high cholesterol.
In contrast, not many studies have investigated the negative effects of excess iron, which can cause liver disease, heart problems, and sometimes diabetes. High iron levels may also lead to a higher risk of bacterial skin infections, such as cellulitis, a bacterial infection that affects the inner layers of the skin and abscesses.
Previous research has shown that iron is an important nutrient for the survival and growth of bacteria, but this global study is the first to use large-scale population data to further investigate the link between high iron levels and bacterial skin infections. The study confirmed iron’s ability to protect against anaemia and it showed that this mineral may also reduce the risk of high cholesterol. However, it also revealed that high iron levels can cause skin infections as noted above.