Iron supplements consumed by millions of people could harm the body in as little as 10 minutes if not administered in the right doses, a study by Imperial College London warns.
Tests showed that the mineral quickly causes DNA damage in the blood vessels.
Although the test was performed in a laboratory, and not on people, the researchers found that the iron levels found in dietary supplements may be too high and harmful to health.
In England and Wales alone, six million prescriptions for iron supplements are issued each year.
“In the future, physicians should think carefully about prescribing the minimum required dose of iron for patients who need it,” the researchers told the Daily Mail.
Iron is an essential element for life and many women take it after pregnancy. It is used as a treatment for anemia, a condition caused by low levels of this mineral.
Claire Shovlin, lead author of the study, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, told MailOnline that men need an average of 8.7 mg of iron per day, and menstruating women need 14.8. mg.
Low-dose supplements that can be bought over the counter at drugstores and supermarkets typically contain around 14 mg, the equivalent of a day’s intake.
“Most people should be able to get all the iron they need from their daily diet,” explained Shovlin, who noted that dark leafy vegetables, rice, meat and fish, nuts, seeds, and nuts “are a good source. of iron”.
Around six million Britons take iron supplements, mainly for the treatment of anemia, a disease caused by deficiency of that mineral, which causes a feeling of exhaustion.
For the National English Health System (NHS), taking 17 mg or less a day of iron supplementation is unlikely to cause any harm in healthy people, but for people with low iron content, the standard dose in Britain is around 200 mg a day.
In that sense, the study by Imperial College suggests research to see if this level is too high.
Shovlin and her team tested the effect of high doses of this mineral on human endothelial cells that line up in arteries and veins. They were treated with an iron solution comparable to that seen in the blood after taking the iron supplement.
After ten minutes, the cells treated with the solution were found to show signs of damage and the DNA repair system was activated.
“All cells in the body have DNA repair systems that can fix all kinds of things on cells,” Shovlin explained, “but when we added iron, we saw that these systems had to work harder than normal.”
However, the researcher said it is not yet known whether damage to blood vessels in a laboratory setting would result in damage to the circulatory system in humans. But it does warn that cells are more sensitive to iron than previously thought.
In this regard, Shovlin clarified that they are not yet in the stage of advising doctors to change their approach to prescribing iron supplements, but he insisted that while many people need more iron and it is crucial to allow our bodies to function properly, Before consuming it freely, you should consult your doctor.
For Shovlin, this study helps open the debate about how much iron people take and how much iron doctors prescribe to people.
However, other scientists not involved in the study said more research needs to be done to establish whether iron is harmful.
Claire Clarkin, professor of developmental biology at the University of Southampton, said this is an early observation at the individual cell level and more research is required to confirm whether an entire blood vessel made up of many cell types behaves the same way. .
In turn, Susan Fairweather-Tait, professor of Mineral Metabolism at the University of East Anglia, said that in her opinion the study could not be described as a “low dose” and the form of iron used was not comparable to the form that it is found in humans.