Statin medications are known to have an effect on cellular iron. A group of researchers have compared the effects of statins on iron reduction and cholesterol levels (HDL/LDL ratio). It included patients with advanced peripheral arterial disease.
Improved clinical outcomes were associated with lower iron levels but not with changes in cholesterol levels. This means that iron reduction may provide a low-cost alternative to statins for reducing inflammation associated with arterial disease. The iron reduction can be achieved via therapeutic phlebotomy (TP). The procedure is identical to blood donation, except that TP requires a doctor’s prescription.
The results appeared in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Improved iron metabolism might also be achieved by dietary changes. The strategy would be to not merely avoid foods containing iron, but rather have each person's overall nutritional status assessed and appropriate changes made to reduce the accumulation of excess iron in the cells.
Pathologic cellular iron retention has been implicated in several features of heart disease (systemic oxidative stress and vascular inflammation).
The research team postulated that one way statin drugs improve cardiovascular outcomes is by countering the pro-inflammatory effects of excess iron in the body. One evidence of this link is that prior to menopause, women have much lower levels of heart attack than men, by virtue of depleting their iron stores each month during menstruation. But after menopause, when menstruation stops, women's heart attack risk more closely approximates men's.
Using data from a clinical trial of iron (ferritin) reduction in advanced peripheral arterial disease, the Iron and Atherosclerosis Study, the researchers compared effects of ferritin levels vs. high-density lipoprotein to low-density lipoprotein ratios (both were randomization variables) on clinical outcomes in participants receiving and not receiving statins.
"There are commonalities between the clinical benefits of statins and the maintenance of physiologic iron levels," the researchers concluded. "Iron reduction may be a safe and low-cost alternative to statins."