Using mice as the basis for their animal model, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found dietary iron intake, equal to heavy red meat consumption, suppresses leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite.
Iron is the one mineral that humans do not excrete, the more iron consumed the greater the chance leptin levels will drop, resulting in increased appetite and the likelihood to overeat.
This study is published in the September 1, 2015, issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation
“We showed that the amount of food intake increased in animals that had high levels of dietary iron,” said Don McClain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center on Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at Wake Forest Baptist and senior author of the study. “In people, high iron, even in the high-normal range, has been implicated as a contributing factor to many diseases, including diabetes, fatty liver disease and Alzheimer’s, so this is yet another reason not to eat so much red meat because the iron in red meat is more readily absorbed than iron from plants.”
In this study, male mice fed high amounts of iron (2000 mg per kilogram) and low normal amounts of iron (35 mg per kilogram) for two months were measured for levels of iron and fat tissue. The researchers noticed a 115% increase of iron in the mice fed a high iron diet as compared to the mice fed the low normal diet. Leptin levels can the blood were 42% lower in mice on the high iron diet compared to those on the low normal diet.
Results from the animal model were corroborated through blood tests from 76 human participants in a previous clinical study. Ferritin blood tests measure the amount of iron stored in the body.
McClain et al. demonstrated that fat tissue reacts to iron to adjust the availability of the amount of leptin, a major regulator of appetite, energy consumption, and metabolism.
“We don’t know yet what optimal iron tissue level is, but we are hoping to do a large clinical trial to determine if decreasing iron levels have any effect on weight and diabetes risk,” McClain said. “The better we understand how iron works in the body, the better chance we have of finding new pathways that may be targeted for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and other diseases.”
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The Research Service of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the national Institutes of Health provided funding for the study. This study was conducted at the University of Utah before McClain joined Wake Forest Baptist.
Co-authors are Yan Gao, Ph.D., Zhonggang Li, M.S., Scott Gabrielsen, M.D., Ph.D., Judith A. Simcox, Ph.D., Soh-hyun Lee, Ph.D., Deborah Jones, B.S., Bob Cooksey, M.S., and Gregory Stoddard, Ph.D., of the University of Utah; William T. Cefalu, M.D., of Louisiana State University
Beck, M. (2015, August 24). High iron intake may increase appetite, disease risk. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center: http://www.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2015/High_iron_intake_may_increase_appetite_disease_risk.htm
Gao, Y., Cefalu, W. T., & McClain, D. A. (2015, September 1). Adipocyte iron regulates leptin and food intake. doi:10.1172/JCI81860
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