Brain Foods

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Iron Deficiency Harms Brain

Iron Deficiency Harms Brain


Too little iron may be the cause of at least some cases of Alzheimer's disease. The finding suggests that these cases might have been prevented -- and might still be treatable.

As people age, their red blood cells have less of the stuff that makes them red. It's called heme, a cellular form of iron. Bruce N. Ames, PhD, and colleagues at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, Calif., wondered whether loss of heme in brain cells could harm the brain.

In the test tube, they blocked heme in human brain cells. The cells began to look just like cells afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. Why is this important? It's fairly common for people to get too little iron or vitamin B6 in their diets. Exposure to aluminum or other toxic metals is also quite common. All these things block heme in brain cells.

"Iron and B6 deficiencies are especially important because they are widespread, but they are also preventable with supplementation," the researchers note in the Nov. 8 early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study also showed that when the heme-deficient cells were stimulated to grow they died instead. This indicated that the heme within the cells are crucial to cell survival.

Ames and colleagues suggest that by learning more about how the body makes and uses heme -- and about how this process gets disrupted -- scientists will peer deeper into the mysterious causes of Alzheimer's and other brain diseases.

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