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Why This Increases Your Stroke Risk by 50%

By on February 23, 2014
From protein to vitamin C, we’re all concerned about eating enough nutrients–but what about your iron intake? Turns out many adults in the UK aren’t getting enough according to new research, something that could increase their risk of blood clots.

This is a huge concern, say researchers, as blood clots can dramatically increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

“Since platelets in the blood stick together more if you are short of iron, we think this may explain why being short of iron can lead to strokes, though much more research will be needed to prove this link,” says Dr. Claire Shovlin, a researcher from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. “There are many additional steps from a clot blocking a blood vessel to the final stroke developing, so it is still unclear just how important sticky platelets are to the overall process.”

Although Shovlin’s findings are one of the first to identify why an iron deficiency increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, it hasn’t been the first study to make a connection between the two. Several studies already have shown that those who suffer from iron deficiency–a problem commonly affecting those in third world countries–face a higher risk of ischaemic stroke, a type of stroke that occurs when an artery in the brain is blocked.

Affecting over 15 million people worldwide now, Shovlin’s data shows now what’s causing people to face a higher risk–but unfortunately, treating the root cause isn’t as easy.

“The next step is to test whether we can reduce high-risk patients’ chances of having a stroke by treating their iron deficiency,” says Shovlin. “We will be able to look at whether their platelets become less sticky.”

What Shovlin Discovered

Publishing her findings in the journal PLoS One, Shovlin and her colleagues set out to find out what was triggering so many strokes–a trigger scientists had only hypothesized in the past.

To narrow down what it was, Shovlin looked at data involving nearly 500 people with abnormal blood vessels in the lung, a condition commonly referred to as pulmonary arteriovenous malformation. This can cause enlarged vessels in the lungs. Examining people with this condition was important, as people with this condition do not have blood vessels that can filter out small clots as blood travels through the arteries.

From there, she examined the participants’ iron levels, and found that those who had “moderately low” iron levels, or 6 micromoles per liter, faced a 50 percent higher risk of stroke.

Those who had normal iron levels, however, defined as between 7 to 27 micromoles, did not face a higher risk.

“These data suggest that patients with compromised pulmonary capillary filtration due to pulmonary arteriovenous malformations are at increased risk of ischaemic stroke if they are iron deficient, and that mechanisms are likely to include enhanced aggregation of circulating platelets,” says Shovlin in the study, which was published on PLoS One’s website. “The presented and published data support a model in which iron deficiency enhances platelet aggregation.”

In essence, low iron levels made them more susceptible to stroke–and chances are these effects may carry out to the normal population.

What You Should Do

At risk of heart attack or stroke? Don’t panic–check your iron intake instead. If it’s too low, it’s time to increase it naturally, by eating iron-rich foods such as beef, whole wheat bread, and spinach. If need be, an iron supplement can also get you out of a deficiency safely.

Readers: Do you eat enough iron in your diet?

Sources:
Study: Low Iron Levels May Trigger StrokePloSOne.org
Press Release: Low Iron Levels, Blood Clots, and Stroke Linked in New Study – Imperial.ac.uk
Study Finds that Low Iron Levels Increase Stroke Risk by 50%MedicalNewsToday.com

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