There is a strange paradox in the relationship between Multiple Sclerosis and iron:

  • On one hand, too little iron in expectant mothers’ blood translates in too little iron in the foetus, which in turn translates into the future baby growing into an adult at risk of many health issues such as Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis [1].  MS patients’ blood often is deficient in iron [2,3]

  • anemia is a common problem to MS patients and other chronically ill patients.
  • Iron deposits have been found in the Brain of MS patients

What gives?

About the anemia:  Many chronic illnesses bring some level of anemia [4].

In a nutshell, inflammation is part of many chronic diseases, particularly  autoimmune diseases. Inflammation-associated proteins [cytokines]  disturb the mechanisms that regulate iron levels in the blood, and can bring about the type of anemia called Anemia of Chronic Disorders (ACD).  This in turn has impact on the immune system, since  ”…Both iron deficiency and iron overload may influence the proliferation of B and T lymphocytes..”  [4,5]

 

MRI MS T2

T2 MRI of Brain Showing MS lesions in bright white (Wikipedia Commons)

About the iron deposits in the brain and  and MS:

The (vocal) proponents of Chronic Cerebrospinal Veinous Insufficiency( CCSVI) as the culprit for MS propose that the poor blood circulation causes MS by depositing iron in the brain [6,7] . Others [10] are less sanguine about causality, but still point towards inflammation as a major factor in MS.Quoting [9] : “…Nevertheless, what cannot be fully excluded from this study is whether a condition like CCSVI may contribute to increased iron deposition in MS, and if iron induced endothelial damage at the level of blood-brain-barrier may further lead to increased inflammation and neurodegeneration…” CCSVI is still not accepted as the MS “Smoking Gun ” in the MS literature.

The main question for the MSer is: If they take iron supplements against their anemia, will that iron  end up in their brain and worsen MS?

 MS Forums [8] consensus:  Lowering your iron intake will not your MS go away, but not taking supplements if you have anemia could land you in  serious trouble.

Research papers on the topic of Iron supplementation and MS are few and far between. But some results seem show that in some cases Iron supplementation helps  [9]

To be continued…

Talk to your Doctor

Sources:

[1] PennState ; “The effects of Iron”

[2] Journal of Nutrition ; “Iron Deficiency Alters Brain Development and Functioning”,2003

[3] WebMD; ” Multiple Sclerosis Tied to Iron in Brain. Studies Point to Cause, Location of MS Brain Damage”, 2003

[4] Haematologica. ; “anemia of chronic disease”; 1997 May-Jun;82(3):375-81.

[5] Clin Chem Lab Med. ; “ Advancements in anemias related to chronic conditions.” ; 2010 Sep;48    (9):1217-26

[6] CCSVI Foundation

[7] ThisisMS ; “Diet and Iron Deposits” ; forum, 2009

[8] BiomedCentral ; “Iron deposition and inflammation in multiple sclerosis. Which one comes first?”, 2011

[9] Metabolic  Brain Dis. ; “Iron and the folate-vitamin B12-methylation pathway in multiple sclerosis” ; 2005

 

 

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