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UB study finds diet can influence iron levels in brain

Diet can influence iron levels in the brain, a potentially important link for such conditions as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, a new University at Buffalo study shows.

Those and other neurological conditions are associated with high brain iron levels. Higher concentrations of iron are also found in the brains of healthy adults as they age.

What’s not clear, is how environmental factors, including diet, influence the iron levels.

The UB research in the Journal of the Neurobiology of Aging is a small pilot study of 190 people, but is believed to be the first investigating how diet influences brain iron levels in healthy individuals, according to the researchers.

“Among environmental factors that can influence putative iron levels, diet is an attractive target to investigate,” said Dr. Robert Zivadinov, senior author and director of the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center.

The study reported that brain iron levels appear to be influenced by diet, but those effects vary by gender.

Men who ate more dairy products and vegetables had higher iron levels in the brain. In women, dairy consumption did not seem to affect brain iron levels, but eating more vegetables was associated with lower brain iron levels.

It appears that eating higher amounts of vegetables has a beneficial effect for women’s brain iron levels, but has negative implications for men, the researchers concluded. But Zivadinov cautioned that because of the high variability of diet even within the same individual, and the need to confirm the results in additional research, the study’s findings need to be interpreted carefully.