As I often report, despite spending billions of dollars on two, massive “Decades of the Brain” research projects, mainstream medicine still has no idea what really causes Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia—much less how to treat it.
But in recent years, some pioneering researchers have begun to look more closely at the link between certain nutrients and degenerative brain diseases. In fact, Austrian researchers just uncovered a link between excess iron and AD.
I’ll tell you all about that study in just a moment. But first, let’s take a step back to discuss why excess iron poses such a serious problem for your overall health…
Excess iron causes disease
The human body naturally contains and recycles all the iron it needs. And the only way you lose iron is through blood loss. Which explains why some women of child-bearing age can develop low iron, due to blood loss during menstruation. Some other people may develop low iron because of problems with their red blood cells or inadequate B-vitamin intake (both of which play a role in recycling iron).
But even in these cases, you should only supplement with iron if your doctor has diagnosed you with a deficiency through blood testing. (Hopefully, they’ll also determine and monitor whatever condition is causing the low iron in the first place.)
Especially because, for most people, taking an over-the-counter, daily supplement that contains iron can lead to a complete health disaster.
When you don’t have frank, clinical iron deficiency, and you start supplementing with it, your tissues begin to store the excess by forming unhealthy body stores. In fact, as you may recall, back in the late 1980s, I worked with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg on analyses that clearly linked excess iron in the body with increased rates of cancers of all sites in men and women.
Other research through the years also found that excess iron increases the risks of heart disease, inflammation, and infections too. Plus, in some people who are susceptible to iron storage diseases, it can even lead to outright failure of the heart, kidneys, liver, and other organs, and death.
It turns out, when a person has too much iron in the body, it acts as an oxidant that causes damage to your cells and your DNA. Over time, this damage can lead to disease. And that point brings me back to the new study…
Too much iron linked to poorer cognition
For this new study, 100 healthy older adults and 100 older adults with AD underwent MRI scans to test for the accumulation of iron deposits stored in the brain. They also underwent neurological and cognitive testing.
Then, after 17 months, among the AD sufferers, 56 of them underwent another MRI scan and cognitive testing. And it turns out, those with greater increases in brain iron showed worse performance on standard testing of cognitive function.
These findings add to prior studies linking iron build–up in the brain to declines in cognition and memory.
Of course, in an interview, a doctor who wasn’t involved in the study compared iron deposits in the brain to amyloid and tangles. But that’s just wrong…
As I’ve explained before, we don’t know that amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (which are abnormal protein deposits that build up in the brains) actually cause AD. And, on the contrary, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest they have nothing to do with the development of AD.
In fact, autopsy studies show that half the people with AD don’t have these amyloid plaque deposits in their brains…and half of people without AD do have them!
So, in all likelihood, amyloid plaques probably appear as a result of dementia in some, but not all, AD patients. But they’re certainly not the cause of the disease. And it’s very possible they appear as a result of a completely unrelated process. Which explains why drugs designed to prevent the build-up of amyloid just don’t work.
In my view, this new evidence on excess iron and AD is much stronger than the amyloid plaque pet theory. Especially when you consider what we know about the other ways excess iron causes disease, as I mentioned earlier.
Plus, this isn’t the first study linking excess iron to cognitive decline…
In another study, even among those with amyloid deposits, people with greater iron build–up in the brain experienced accelerated cognitive decline during the next several years. They also performed worse on tests of language, memory, and thinking.
So, really, it seems as though amyloid could just be background noise—while the build-up of iron explains the occurrence and trajectory of dementia. And there’s now a clinical trial in the works testing a drug that eliminates excess iron from the body.
Some people may begin accumulating iron in childhood
In another recent study, researchers found a strong association between high body mass index (BMI) in early adulthood with long-term increased risk of dementia in older age. Specifically, those who were “overweight” in early adulthood had an 80 percent higher risk of developing dementia than normal weight peers. And those who were “obese” had a 250 percent higher risk!
When I read through that study, I immediately thought of some related findings I worked on for my Ph.D. doctoral dissertation. As part of my research, I found some evidence linking high BMI during childhood and adolescence with…you guessed it…high iron.
So—perhaps, in some people, this pattern of accumulating excess iron in tissues can begin in childhood and persists into early adulthood, with dire consequences for dementia, in addition to other diseases.
With all this in mind, allow me to leave you with this sound piece of advice…
Unless you’ve been diagnosed by a physician as having iron-deficient anemia, you should not take any dietary supplements containing iron. Instead, get your iron from a balanced diet that includes dairy, meats, and seafood. (The human body can safely process and metabolize iron found in whole foods. Other foods that contain iron include spinach and legumes.)
You can also learn more about the dozens of drug-free, cutting-edge approaches to supporting brain health well into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond in my Complete Alzheimer’s Fighting Protocol. To learn more about this comprehensive online learning tool, or to enroll today, simply click here now!
“Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Assessment of Brain Iron Level in Alzheimer Disease Using 3-T MRI.” Radiology, 2020 296:3, 619-626. doi.org/10.1148/radiol.2020192541