Iron Health Benefits
Iron health benefits include support of the immune system and its presence in hemoglobin in red blood cells, but it can have a negative impact on prostate health and overall health if consumed in high amounts. In fact, iron is necessary for cell division, and it is known that many cancer cell types specifically accumulate iron for that purpose.
There are other iron health benefits as well. Iron is a cofactor in the production of some neurotransmitters, it works with enzymes, and it helps boost the immune system. Too much iron, however, is not healthy.
According to a study presented at the 2007 centennial meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, the combination of high iron intake and low dietary antioxidant consumption may increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. (Choi 2008) The study’s authors evaluated men who had participated in the Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), which consisted of 661 men who subsequently developed prostate cancer.
In a subsequent study, however, researchers in Spain investigated the association between dietary heme iron (primary sources are meat and fish) and the risk of prostate cancer among men who participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). After a mean follow-up of 10 years, the researchers did not see any increased risk of prostate cancer associated with heme iron intake.
How To Use Iron
To appreciate iron health benefits, men should get 18 mg per day. Rich food sources of iron include liver (beef, chicken), beef, kidney beans, lima beans, baked beans, and spinach. When the body is low in iron, it increases its ability to absorb the mineral. When iron stores are high, absorption decreases to help protect the body against toxic effects. Although the body automatically tries to protect against too much iron, an overdose can still occur. Do not take iron supplements or a supplement that contains iron unless you know you have an iron deficiency. Your doctor can check for iron deficiency with a simple blood test.
Choi JY et al. Iron intake, oxidative stress-related genes (MnSOD and MPO) and prostate cancer risk in CARET cohort. Carcinogenesis 2008 May; 29(5): 964-70.
Jakszyn PG et al. Nitrosamines and heme iron and risk of prostate cancer in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2012 Mar; 21(3): 547-51