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  • Writer's picture Bowie Matteson

"Cross-Talk Between Iron Metabolism and Diabetes"

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

This is a summary of the findings published in the article "Cross-Talk Between Iron Metabolism and Diabetes" authored by José Manuel Fernández-Real, Abel López-Bermejo, and Wifredo Ricart. It was published in Diabetes Vol.51 Issue 8 in 2002.

Much of this article is focused on the development and progression of Type II diabetes as it pertains to the elderly population. Yet, I want you to read this with an open mind. Think in terms of the logistics of diabetes as a whole: insulin secretion, dietary influences and the details of the iron-glucose metabolism relationship. I know it says Type II, but think in terms of the diabetes universals.

The first paragraph of this article throws 1 haymaker after the other:

Frequent blood donations, leading to decreased iron stores, have been demonstrated to reduce postprandial hyperinsulinemia in healthy volunteers (11), to improve insulin sensitivity (12), and to constitute a protective factor for the development of type 2 diabetes (13). Phlebotomy was followed by decreases in serum glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and apoprotein B (14), and by improvement in both β-cell secretion and peripheral insulin action in patients with type 2 diabetes (15). A significant impact of tissue iron excess on systemic effects of diabetes is suggested by recent reports in which iron appears to influence the development of diabetic nephropathy and vascular dysfunction. In this sense, intravenous administration of deferoxamine resulted in improved coronary artery responses to cold stress testing in type 2 diabetic subjects (16) and in amelioration of endothelial dysfunction in subjects with coronary heart disease (17).

Read it twice.

Blood donations are emphasized here because of blood and iron's intimate relationship. I don't necessarily want you to think you can blood-let your way out of diabetes, but for now just consider donating blood as the quickest and most effective way to offload iron.

Let's break each of these claims down by the research they cite:

  1. Post-prandial hyperinsulinemia (the release of too much insulin after a meal)

This study looked at glucose tolerance (how quickly glucose is moved out of the blood) before a blood donation and 4 weeks after a blood donation. Subjects would take in 75g of carbs, then have their blood glucose taken after 2 hours. Their glucose tolerance was shown to improve after donating blood, in which their serum ferritin levels were halved.

2. To improve insulin sensitivity

This particular study was comparing the insulin sensitivities of vegetarians and "meat-eaters" (re: omnivores, only 2001 so no carnivore-dieters yet). They noticed that both the serum ferritin levels and the fasting blood glucose levels were lower for the vegetarians vs. the non-vegetarians. Again, meat vs. no meat is not important to me the yet. But how about a pretty consistent correlation between iron and blood glucose?

3. Constitute a protective factor for Type II Diabetes

The study cited here was looking at the correlation between blood donation and coronary heart disease (CHD). They surveyed 3 groups of men: those that donated a lot, those that donated some, and those that didn't donate at all. Then they kept tabs on major health/life events for the following 4 years. CHD events did not correlate with blood donations, but the authors noted that those who donated the most got Diabetes the least (2.7%). Those that donated the least, got diabetes the most (4.1%). At surface level, these numbers don't jump off the page at me but I get the point.

4. Improved beta-cell secretion and insulin action

This study is from the same group of researchers who conducted the titled article. They selected type II diabetics with a history of high serum ferritin levels (>200 ng/ml) and split them into a control and donation group. The blood donation group gave blood at 2 week intervals for 4 weeks (0,2,4). At 4 and 12 months after the final blood draws, HBA1c was measured, as well as glucose tolerance. The donation group showed significant reduction in HbA1c and increase in glucose tolerance at both the 4 month and 12 month mark compared to the control.


So all in all it sounds like this is kind of a big deal. Or is that just me?

Iron, more specifically its excess, has a strong connection to elevated blood sugars. I know it's only been presented in the context of type II diabetes, but why wouldn't it also apply to type 1?

I need you to forget about your genes and stem cell transplants for a moment. Relish in the fact that this pertains to exactly the problem we, the Type Is, have.

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