Healthy iron levels are important as low iron can cause anemia and cardiovascular problems.
Higher iron may protect against heart disease, but it also can increase the risk of stroke.
Most people don’t need iron supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
The best way to identify whether iron levels are healthy is through a routine blood test.
Iron is an essential mineral in the human body, facilitating the creation of red blood cells that help pump oxygen throughout the body.

Low iron levels can cause fatigue as well as hinder the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

But what happens when iron levels are too high?

Recent research out of Imperial College London, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAMA) and PLOS Medicine, shines new light on some of the negative side effects of higher iron levels.

The study’s lead author told Healthline that the research should give doctors more tools to provide treatments, while an outside expert says it’s a reminder of the importance of regular visits to the doctor.

Complications from too much iron
Researchers used information from about half a million people from the UK Biobank, a long-term repository of genetic data.

“We studied the effect of subtle changes in genetically determined levels of iron, which is not the same as actual changes in iron status,” explained Dr. Dipender Gill, a research fellow at Imperial College London’s Centre for Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

“With that said, our research supported the known protective effect of higher iron levels on risk of anemia and also identified potential detrimental effects of higher iron status on formation of some types of blood clot and bacterial skin infections,” Gill told Healthline.

The researchers found that people with naturally higher iron levels saw the benefit of a reduced risk of atherosclerosis — a condition in which fatty substances clog the arteries that can lead to a host of serious complications.

On the flip side, researchers also found that high iron levels could be connected to blood clots caused by slower blood flow. Another possible side effect of high iron is an increased risk of bacterial skin infections.

“The findings related to the narrowing of arteries and blood clot formation were somewhat expected, given our previous research suggesting that higher iron may protect against heart disease but increase risk of some types of stroke,” Gill said.

“However, the finding related to higher iron increasing the risk of bacterial skin infections came from an exploratory, hypothesis-free analysis looking at over 900 disease outcomes, and added novel insight,” he added.

Gill said that further clinical research is needed to confirm these associations, adding that he and his team have plans for future research.

“We will now look at the mechanisms that mediate the effects of iron on disease, so that we can identify additional therapeutic targets.”