The new study led by Dr. Jukka T. Salonen, involving l,931 men, was conducted over a 5-year period in Eastern Finland, where coronary heart disease has among the highest incidences in the world. At the beginning of the study the men were aged 42, 48, 54, or 60 years and were free of heart disease. They were followed for an average of 3 years, during which time 51 men suffered heart attacks. For every 1% increase in serum ferritin, the form in which iron is stored in the body, the scientists found a 4% increase in the risk of a heart attack.
The men in the study with serum ferritin values of more than 200 micro-grams per liter had 2.2 times the heart attack risk of those with lower ferritin values, after adjustment for other risk factors, and their mean daily intake of iron was 19 mg (RDA = 18 mg). While Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw have long warned the public about the harmful free-radical-promoting aspects of iron and have meticulously kept it out of their formulations, many doctors and the FDA haven't investigated the connection, perhaps because of their bias against nutrient supplements and their ignorance about free radicals.
A Wall Street Journal article earlier this year honed in on a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, for which iron has been implicated as a villain.3 Health surveys indicate that iron-deficiency anemia turns out to be massively over-diagnosed-it is indeed quite rare-and the inherited disease hemochromatosis, which can cause fatal iron overload, is far more common, affecting an estimated 1.4 million Americans. Other iron overload diseases mentioned were arthritis, heart disease, and premature wrinkling. And the problems are made worse as iron accumulates with age and as we are bombarded with more legally mandated iron from breakfast cereals and other foods.
According to Dr. Sullivan, there is little evidence to support the theory that "iron-poor blood" reduces the energy level of women. 'Women lose their iron stores through menstruating for a large part of their adult lives, and they outlive men," Sullivan said. "Nobody has been able to demonstrate that a person who is iron-depleted has any problems with energy." Dr. Randall Lauffer, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor, said patients should demand that their doctors test their iron levels. Lauffer has formed a related biomedical commercial venture and published a book a year ago which links excess iron with cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. He is of the opinion that the enrichment of grains and cereals with iron is "a bizarre chapter in American nutritional science" and thinks that the idea of iron supplementation should be redefined, particularly for premenopausal women.
Said Dr. Richard Caso, cardiologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif, '"We have to maintain a certain suspicion of any study that comes down the pike. We can't be too quick to embrace new studies. We have to stick with the tried and true." Eleanor Huang, registered dietician and Orange Coast College instructor, still believes that most people have more reason to worry about iron deficiencies than excesses. "Iron deficiency is a pretty widespread problem," she said. "I would say, don't be scared by this study. I would not advocate a drastic change in diet. People should continue to try and get the iron they need."
Dr. Henry Ginsberg, head of the division of preventive medicine and nutrition at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, stressed that much more research needs to be done and then went far beyond the data by suggesting that Americans quit taking unnecessary dietary supplements.8 Dr. Mary Ann Malloy, who served on a heart association committee looking at women and heart disease, said the study brought into question the "more is better" approach to vitamins and minerals, as if studies of vitamins C, E, and beta carotene didn't exist.
Whether defenders of a dying paradigm are truly ignorant or ignore the evidence because they are financially inclined to do so is a moot point. The problem is compounded by the fact that government, particularly the FDA, has tried to monopolize nutritional truth. In fact, many of the scientists who originally were involved in creating the RDAs have now recanted and agree that they are almost meaningless as guides to optimal nutrition.
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