It’s been known for decades that some metals, including iron, accumulate in human tissues during aging and that toxic levels of iron have been linked to neurologic diseases, such as Parkinson’s. The fact is that all metals are toxic and the aging and diseases processes run wild without special transport and handling mechanisms to keep them from harming us. This applies just as much as essential minerals, like iron, zinc and chromium, as it does to non-essential metals and metalloids, like cadmium and arsenical compounds.
Metals can directly and indirectly damage DNA and that means an increased risk of cancer (we call this genotoxicity). There are also possibly non-genotoxic pathways, due to irritation or immuno-toxicity.
It is a fact that metal implants in the body (as, for example, in bone pinning or plates) may be associated with adjacent cancers, caused by irritation of the tissues.
Metal toxicants entering the part of the brain that deals with stress and panic have been linked to disorders dealing with the central nervous system.
There are a growing number of Clinicians and Scientists who are convinced that excitotoxins and heavy metals play a critical role in the development of several neurological disorders, including migraines, seizures, infections, abnormal neural development, certain endocrine disorders, specific types of obesity, and especially the neurodegenerative diseases; a group of diseases which includes: ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and olivopontocerebellar degeneration.
The presence of toxic metals in our systems is highly significant for they are capable of causing serious health problems through interfering with normal biological functioning. Although they can be found in high concentrations in the body, a number of these heavy metals (aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, lead and mercury) have no known biological function. Others (arsenic, copper, iron and nickel) are thought to be essential at low concentrations, but are toxic at high levels. Generally speaking, heavy metals disrupt metabolic function in two basic ways:
First, they accumulate and thereby disrupt function in vital organs and glands such as the heart, brain, kidneys, bone, liver, etc.
Second, they displace vital nutritional minerals from where they should be in the body to provide biological function. For example, enzymes are catalysts for virtually every biochemical reaction in all life-sustaining processes of metabolism. But instead of calcium being present in an enzyme reaction, lead or cadmium may be there in its place. Toxic metals can’t fulfill the same role as the nutritional minerals, thus their presence becomes critically disruptive to enzyme activity.
Iron Accumulation Associated With Aging
Common belief has held that iron accumulation happens as a result of the aging process. But research in the nematode C. elegans in the Lithgow lab at the Buck Institute shows that iron accumulation itself may also be a significant contributor to the aging process, causing dysfunction and malfolding of proteins already implicated in the aging process. The research is online in Aging.
Iron accumulation can be cause by drinking water, iron cookware, iron pipes, welding,. foods: blackstrap molasses, bone meal, bran, chives, clams, heart, kidney, leafy vegetables, legumes, liver, meat, molasses, nuts, organ meats, oysters, parsley, red wine, refined foods, shellfish, soybeans, wheat germ and whole grains.
Some of the effects include amenorrhea, anger, rheumatoid arthritis, birth defects, bleeding gums, cancer, constipation, diabetes, dizziness, emotional problems, fatigue, headache, heart damage, heart failure, hepatitis, high blood pressure, hostility, hyperactivity, infections, insomnia, irritability, joint pain, liver disease, loss of weight, mental problems, metallic taste in mouth, myasthenia gravis, nausea, pancreas damage, Parkinson’s disease, premature aging, schizophrenia and scurvy.
Similar to what happens in humans and other mammals, researchers found that levels of calcium, copper, iron and manganese increased as the worms aged. But iron accumulated much more than the others, said Buck faculty Gordon Lithgow, PhD, senior scientist on the project. “We were drawn to iron because there is all this literature that links excess iron to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
Researchers began manipulating the nematode’s diet. “We fed iron to four day-old worms, and within a couple of days they looked like 15 day-old worms,” said Lithgow. “Excess iron accelerated the aging process.” Lithgow says excess iron is known to generate oxidative stress and researchers expected to see changes in the worm based on that toxicity. “Instead, what we saw looked much more like normal aging,” said Lithgow. “The iron was causing dysfunction and aggregation in proteins that have already been associated with the aging process. Now we’re wondering if excess iron also drives aging. ”
Researchers, led by graduate student Ida Klang, also treated normal nematodes with the FDA-approved metal chelator CaEDTA â€“ a drug that’s used in humans at risk for lead poisoning. The drug slowed age-related accumulation of iron and extended the healthspan and lifespan of the nematodes. Klang also gave the drug to worms genetically bred to develop specific protein aggregations implicated in human disease. The chelator was also protective in those animals.
Lithgow says the work has implications for the aging research field. “Maintaining the proper balance of metals is key to good health throughout the lifespan, and it’s pretty obvious that this delicate balance can go off-kilter with age,” he said. “This is a phenomena that has not been extensively studied by aging researchers and it’s an area that has potential for positive exploitation.”