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Too much of this mineral can be bad for the brain

May 15, 2012

Most nutrients are not only safe in high amounts, they’re necessary — because too many people simply don’t get nearly enough of the essentials from diet alone.

But it’s also possible to get too much of a good thing, and a new study shows one of the risks of going overboard with iron. This essential mineral, so crucial to your health, could actually contribute to Alzheimer’s disease if you get too much.

In a series of experiments, lab rabbits given a high-cholesterol diet saw increases in their levels of iron in the brain. And as the iron built up, so did the amount of amyloid-beta plaques linked to dementia.

Amyloid-beta alone is a huge red flag, but it wasn’t the only dementia risk factor that cropped up. At the same time, a neuron protein called tau began a process called phosphorylation.

I don’t want to get too technical here, but that’s another big warning sign of dementia.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: When the bunnies were given the same exact treatment we give humans for excess iron — chelation, in this case with a chelating agent called deferiprone — blood levels of both cholesterol and iron fell and the amyloid beta and phosphorylated tau began to disappear.

Brain levels of iron didn’t fall — only levels in the blood, which is to be expected. And apparently, that alone was enough to do the trick.

Now, I treat people — not bunnies. But I test all my patients for excess iron because you don’t have to have floppy ears and a love of carrots to face the risks. Too much iron over time can cause or contribute to any number of conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

And while you’ve probably heard of iron deficiency anemia, most people have never heard of hereditary hemochromatosis — a genetic disorder in which the body stockpiles iron, allowing it to build up to dangerous levels.

It’s a lot more common than you’d think.

Have your holistic doctor check your own levels of iron — and if they’re too high, make like a bunny and seek a treatment that involves regular blood draws.

I’ve diagnosed a number of patients with this condition the past 18 years, and I can’t tell you how grateful they were since it resolved their fatigue and joint pain, both common symptoms of this condition.

It greatly reduced their risk of complications like early heart disease and cancer.

One of the most common mistakes I see people making is that they take iron supplements or multivitamins with iron, thinking it will help their fatigue. This is a mistake. Don’t take iron unless you’ve been diagnosed as being iron deficient via a blood test.