A study of over a million people reveals an intriguing link between iron levels and healthy lifespan. Thus, genes whose role is to metabolize iron in the body could help explain why some people age at a different rate than others.

What if the key to healthy aging lies precisely in the level of iron in the blood? In a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications researchers from the University of Edinburgh from the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging (Germany) claim to have found evidence that iron levels in the blood may play a role in life expectancy. An important finding, they believe, because it could speed up the development of drugs to reduce the risk of age-related diseases, extend years of healthy life, and even increase the chances of living to one. advanced age.

These focused on three measures related to biological aging: lifespan, disease-free years and reaching extremely old age (longevity). Biological aging - the rate at which our body's capacity declines over time - varies among people and leads to life-threatening illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer. The researchers pooled information from three public datasets to enable unprecedented analysis: the combined dataset was equivalent to covering the genetic information of more than one million people.

The importance of maintaining a moderate level of iron in the blood

The team identified ten regions of the genome related to lifespan, healthy lifespan, and longevity. They also found that the genes involved in iron metabolism were overrepresented in their analysis of these three measures related to aging. “These exciting results suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduce our healthy years of life, and keeping these levels under control could prevent age-related damage. They could also help explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat have been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease. », Say the researchers.

Indeed, the iron level in the blood can be affected by many factors, first and foremost by diet. While a deficiency can lead to anemia, the main symptom of which is fatigue, studies have reported an association between high iron intakes and an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and digestive cancers. In addition to diet, the researchers point out that abnormally high or low iron levels may also be linked to age-related conditions such as Parkinson's disease, liver disease, or a decrease in the ability of the body. human body to fight infections in old age.

"Discover how aging is regulated"

While more work is needed to confirm these results, the researchers believe the next possible step would be to design a drug whose role would be to limit the influence of genetic variation on iron metabolism, which could overcome some of the effects. of aging. “Our ultimate goal is to find out how aging is regulated and to find ways to improve health during this process. The ten regions of the genome that we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, health and longevity are all exciting candidates for further study. Adds Dr. Joris Deelen, co-author of the study.

But as the scientific team specifies, recent estimates suggest that the influence of the genetic component in relation to the number of years lived, and the number of years lived in good health without morbidities, would be of the order of Only 10%. Thus, leading a long and healthy life is determined by many different factors, including lifestyle (diet, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco, alcohol), environment, genetics and pure chance. Note that according to ANSES, the nutritional references for iron are estimated at 11 mg / d for men and postmenopausal women, and at 16 mg / d for premenopausal women with high menstrual losses.