A large gene study has discovered several genomic regions linked to longer and healthier lives are also involved in metabolizing iron in the blood. The research suggests abnormal blood iron levels may fundamentally underpin many age-related diseases.
Iron is essential to the functioning of a healthy human body. However, too much iron or too little can rapidly lead to wide variety of problems. Cellular iron metabolism is generally regulated by a number of genes. Mutations in those genes can lead to iron metabolism disorders such as hemochromatosis, in which the body has an overabundance of iron.
A new study, from the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, initially set out to investigate which genes can be linked to longer, healthy lives. Three massive public genomic datasets were analyzed, encompassing over one million subjects.
Ten genomic regions were found to correlate with longer lifespan, healthspan and longevity, five of which have never been linked to healthy aging. But more significantly, a number of these genomic regions identified in the study contained genes involved in iron metabolization.
The hypothesis generated by the research is that abnormal blood iron metabolization may result in a number of age-related diseases. The irregular iron metabolization noted in the study is not enough to cause acute iron-related problems like hemochromatosis, but instead results in low-level, long-term iron accumulations in parts of the body that often suffer from age-related degeneration.
“We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life, and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” says Paul Timmers, an author on the new study from the University of Edinburgh. “We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease.”
A growing body of research, for example, has been investigating the link between abnormal brain iron levels and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials are currently underway exploring whether lowering brain iron levels can slow, or prevent, cognitive decline.
Joris Deelan, from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, suggests plenty more work is necessary to unpack exactly how these specific genomic regions influence aging. But the new study certainly adds weight to the growing idea that impaired iron homeostasis could be a precursor to many age-related problems.
“Our ultimate aim is to discover how aging is regulated and find ways to increase health during aging,” says Deelan. “The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies.”
The new research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: University of Edinburgh
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