High Iron Levels May Point to Diabetes

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A study of 32,826 healthy women found that high levels of iron in the blood may triple the risk of developing diabetes. During the 10-year study, type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in 698 of the women. Research has shown that individuals with hemochromatosis? an inherited disease that causes the body to absorb too much iron from food?are prone to diabetes. Because elevated iron levels can damage cells and interfere with the functioning of organs, it may affect the body's use of insulin, the researchers noted.

The study involved evaluating blood levels of ferritin?a protein that reflects the amount of iron in the body. Normal ferritin levels in women range from 12 to 150 nanograms per milliliter. Average levels were 109 in the women who developed diabetes, compared with 71.5 for those who did not. Also, women in the group with the highest levels, 102.2, were ~3 times more likely to develop diabetes, compared with women in the group with the lowest levels, or <21.1. (The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, February 11, 2004.)