Iron Deficiency May Raise Risk for Stroke and Dementia

May 29th, 2014

Years ago, older people joked about having “tired blood.” But research now indicates that iron deficiency is no laughing matter. According to a new study by Imperial College London, too little iron in the blood may increase your risk of suffering a stroke and vascular dementia by causing blood to become stickier, making it more prone to producing clots.

This latest study provides evidence to explain why low iron levels in the blood can be potentially life-threatening. Researchers discovered that a deficiency can cause increased stickiness of small blood cells called platelets, which can lead to clotting.

Blood Clots in Stroke and Dementia

In an ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke — blood clots interfere with blood supply to the brain, depriving it of oxygen, which can result in permanent damage to brain cells.

Iron deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of dementia. In a study published by Neurology in 2013, researchers followed 2,552 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 for 11 years. Although none had dementia initially, those who were anemic at the start of the study had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia later on. Study author Kristin Yaffe says that although there are several possible reasons for the connection, one may be that low oxygen levels in the blood have been shown to reduce memory and thinking ability and may cause damage to neurons in the brain.

However, too much iron in the body may also cause problems. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013 reported a link between elevated iron levels and the tissue damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease. UCLA researcher Dr. George Bartzokis and his colleagues claim to have found increased iron levels in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to be damaged early in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood Work and Supplements

The American Society of Hematology reports that iron deficiency is very common among certain groups of people, including seniors whose diets do not have proper amounts of iron or who have an inability to absorb sufficient amounts of iron from food due to Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. The best way to ensure you are not suffering from low levels of iron is to ask your doctor to order a complete blood count (CBC) test.

If your iron levels are too low, your doctor may prescribe iron supplements that contain 150 to 200 milligrams of elemental iron per day.

Eating the Right Foods

Seniors living at home should learn how to maintain a nutritious diet, including proper levels of iron. Iron-rich foods can help prevent a deficiency. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute advises the best source of iron is red meat, especially beef and liver; poultry, fish, pork, and shellfish also are good. Although the body tends to absorb iron from meat better than iron from non-meat foods, certain non-meats can also help raise iron levels, including iron-fortified breads, lentils and peas, tofu, prune juice, dried fruits, and dark leafy greens like spinach.

In the end, medical advice to drink prune juice and eat spinach may make seniors laugh, but following this type of prescription from your doctor can help you remain healthy.

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