A large genetic study has found that several genes linked to longevity are involved in iron metabolism in the blood, suggesting that blood iron levels could play an important role in many age related diseases.
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.
Iron is an essential metal for the body, as it is required for the production of certain proteins (the most well known being the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin). Too much iron can increase the risk of many diseases including liver disease, cancer, heart failure and diabetes mellitus. The discovery that genes influencing iron metabolism are linked to lifespan suggests that blood iron levels could be key to how quickly an individual ages.
“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.
Multivariate genomic scan implicates novel loci and haem metabolism in human ageing: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17312-3
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