Iron Toxicity & Pathogenic Infections

One indicator of possible pathogenic infections is high iron levels. Host pathogens need iron for survival. There is evidence that increased levels of iron decreases certain immune cell scavenging abilities, such as neutrophils, and T cells. Simultaneously, increased levels of iron become a source of replication for certain pathogens, such as gram negative bacteria, klebsiella, aeruginosa, listeria, tuberculosis, gonorrhoae, candida albicans and others. Reduction of iron levels has demonstrated in animal studies to inhibit the promulgation of certain pathogens, such as shigella.

There is evidence that decreased serum iron may also be due to pathogens using iron for its own purposes. This may be especially true if there is a rapid and precipitous drop in iron levels.

Iron is essential for life processes. It has essential roles in the body such as red blood cell and hemoglobin formation, ATP synthesis in every cell of the body, as well as its need for the formation of the antioxidant catalase. While iron is essential for life, iron is a very toxic element that requires sufficient iron binding proteins such as transferrin, ferritin and lactoferrin. Excess iron accumulation not only can increase pathogens, but can also become a primary cause of oxidative stress and free radical activity. Iron is an extremely reactive mineral when unbound and exposed to oxygen.

There is ongoing research that demonstrates that microorganisms have developed mechanisms for stealing ferritin (the protein that stores iron and releases it) from different organs and tissues of the body. For example, listeria obtains ferritin from neurons, epithelial cells, macrophages and intestinal cells. The parasite entamoeba histolytica steals ferritin from the blood, brain, lungs and intestines. Candida Albicanscan heist ferritin from the GI tract to survive.

Iron: Identifying Exogenous Sources of Toxicity

Industrial sources of iron are potentially very toxic to the body. Municipal tap water may contain industrial iron due to degrading pipes. Welders and iron workers are exposed to high amounts of iron, and this profession may contribute to iron toxicity in certain individuals. Iron cookware may increase the absorption of industrial forms of iron in some instances.

Supplement manufacturers sometimes include iron in supplemental form. The author of this article does not believe supplemental iron should be taken due to possible issues associated with its toxicity. In fact, recent studies conducted in the Netherlands has found that supplemental iron increases the risk for salmonella infection.

Natural dietary sources of iron may have little to do with elevated serum iron values. It has been the author’s experience that individuals consuming a diet lacking in iron-rich foods could still have high serum iron values. The issue of elevated and decreased serum iron appears to be more functionally related. And the presence of pathogens may be one reason why.

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Iron Availability Increases the Pathogenic Potential of Salmonella Typhimurium and Other Enteric Pathogens at the Intestinal Epithelial Interface, Kortman, Boleij, Swinkels, Tjalsma, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, Dec 2011

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