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Which areas in the body are vulnerable to iron overload?

Two weeks ago in class, we talked about the importance of iron levels in the development and progression of Parkinson’s disease. As most of the public knows, Parkinson’s is a movement disorder that is characterized by muscle weakness as well as rigidity. As the disease involves a process of progressive neurodegeneration, resulting in concomitant worsening of symptoms, research in preventing damage at the earliest possible stage of disease has been of utmost importance. But where does iron come into the picture? Well, some recent findings have pointed to the role of iron homeostasis, or rather the alteration thereof, in the initiation of the cascade of events leading to Parkinson’s pathology. Iron is a very important element in the human body as it serves as a co-factor and electron carrier in many reactions; a great example of this is hemoglobin function. Iron also plays a role in cellular metabolic processes and is therefore of utmost importance in every area of the body, but we’ll focus on the brain. A significant increase in brain iron levels of Parkinson’s patients. Generally, iron accumulates in the brain over time, but its concentration is balanced by the action of several proteins. An imbalance of iron in the brain can lead to larger amounts of free radicals and subsequent reactive oxygen species in the brain. Free radicals cause a protein called α-synuclein to aggregate, leading to a cascade of events that result in cell death. This cellular mishap is accelerated by increased levels of iron which stabilizes the α-synuclein aggregates and even leads to increased expression of the protein.

Given these findings, it would be therapeutic for treatments to target this iron imbalance in its early stages to prevent the progression of symptoms. Iron-chelating drugs are currently being developed by independent researchers and pharmaceutical companies with some success in halting neurotoxicity. One very interesting finding is that a major catechin protein in green tea, called (-)-epigallocatechin 3 gallate or EGCG for short, has shown highly potent ability to prevent neuronal death by scavenging reactive oxygen species as well as binding/chelating excess iron to form an inactive complex.

How should the average citizen use this information? Given oxidized species build up in the body over time due to declining antioxidant activity, it would be very beneficial to combat this and prevent the buildup of potentially dangerous chemicals in our bodies before they become a problem. Some research suggests that products containing antioxidants possess a fair amount of value. Others state that simple remedies such as green tea hold very little clinical value. Either way, the average person doesn’t have much to lose by switching out coffee for green tea once in a while.

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