Hysterectomy Raises Iron Levels and Risks

Iron in brain linked to degenerative disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Iron is an essential element for a properly functioning body, but extemes of iron in the blood have different consequences. Strategies for optimizing iron levels are discussed in new research from the University of California - Los Angeles.

Too little iron results in anemia, and too much iron has been linked with degenerative brain disease like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. What's the best way to supplement the body with this essential nutrient?

"If you had a pre-menopausal hysterectomy, try to reduce iron intake."

UCLA researchers examined iron levels in women who had a hysterectomy – a surgery that removes the uterus – and women who did not. A hysterectomy can change iron levels because the procedure stops a woman from menstruating, a process that allows a woman to release excess iron in the blood. 

The study found that women who had undergone the procedure had higher levels of iron in their brains than the women without a hysterectomy. In fact, their iron levels were as high as men’s, who have always had higher levels of brain iron compared to women. This may explain why men are more likely to develop age-related degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, says the study.

In the study, scientists used an MRI - a kind of imaging test - to measure the amount of a certain type of iron in the brains of 39 postmenopausal women, 15 of whom had a hysterectomy. The same test was performed on 54 men as a control group. The imaging test allowed the researchers to look at several areas of the brain.

It was discovered that the women who had a hysterectomy - and also the men - had higher amounts of iron, especially in a certain part of the brain, compared to women who never had a hysterectomy.

These findings suggest that the lack of the loss of iron that would have occured in women who had the hysterectomy is putting them at a similar risk for degenerative brain diseases that are experienced in men. However, it's possible to reduce brain iron levels with simple changes to diet and lifestyle, said Dr. George Bartzokis, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, in a press release. 

Menstruation is one way to eliminate iron from the body; women who haven’t had a hysterectomy and who menstruate enjoy this benefit. For women who have undergone a hysterectomy, as well as men, Bartzokis offers simple tips: Avoid overusing iron supplements; eat less red meat; donate blood; and consume natural iron-chelating substances, which remove iron from the body, such as green tea.

This observational study was published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2011
Last Updated:
October 15, 2011