Could IRON protect you from heart disease?

When it comes to iron levels, think of Johnny Cash... and keep a close watch on that heart of yours.

Because a just-out study finds a direct link between iron levels and heart risk.

If you're falling short in this mineral, then your risk of coronary artery disease jumps. But if you get what you need, that risk plunges.

The researchers are planning to test iron supplements for patients at risk of heart disease in their next study.

"It could well be the case that if their iron levels are low, we could give them an iron tablet to minimize their risk of cardiovascular disease," lead researcher Dipender Gill of Imperial College London said in a news release.

And that is an excellent idea.

But this is where you have to make like the Man in Black and walk the line between too much and too little, so you can get just the right amount.

While it might be tempting to dash out and buy some iron supplements, that's exactly what you SHOULDN'T do!

Iron is an essential mineral, and you DON'T want to fall short. But you also don't want to start taking supplements unless you're ACTUALLY low -- since too much of this stuff can also be bad for you.

You have to make sure you're actually low before you turn to supplements.

Even that's not as easy as it sounds. Most docs only test circulating iron and not your stored iron (a.k.a. ferritin). Without both tests, it's impossible to get a true sense of what's going on.

If your doc runs those tests and finds you really are low, work with him on figuring out the best way to raise your levels. If you need a supplement, he can help calculate the best dose.

Usually, you can pick up an entire year's supply for about $10.

But don't stop there.

Low iron usually has a cause. In older folks, poor diet, certain health conditions, and even common meds can all sap you of your iron.

The same doc who tested your levels should work with you to figure out and fix that cause -- and then test you again to see if you still need supplements or if you're getting enough from diet alone.

In addition, be sure to get your iron from a wide range of sources. The best are meats, especially beef, pork, and poultry. You can also get iron from greens such as spinach -- but since that form of iron is harder to absorb, you have to eat more of them.

Call it a good reason to include a nice, big salad with every meal.