Iron could be the leading cause of COPD and its symptoms

Researchers have discovered that one in five people who suffer from chronic lung and respiratory conditions, such as COPD, have an iron deficiency. This may be causing worse symptoms for patients. About three million people in the UK have COPD and one dies every 20 minutes from the condition in England. People normally associate iron deficiency with anaemia but in fact iron is essential for many other processes in the human body and not just for making red blood cells.
Those with iron deficiency have much lower levels of oxygen in their blood, have greater difficulty exercising, require more supplemental oxygen therapy, suffer more frequent flare-ups and a worsening of shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
The Oxford study revealed a surprisingly big difference in oxygen levels between those patients with low iron and those with normal iron levels. “The amount of oxygen in the blood is a strong predictor of life expectancy in COPD, so these findings are potentially very significant for patients.”
Currently smoking cessation and treatments that target the air passages in the lungs are the main treatments for COPD patients. However some patients are still left with troubling symptoms that interfere with their daily lives and lead to hospital admission. Iron deficiency works in multiple ways to worsen the impact of COPD, hopefully establishing a new treatment regime with iron could improve things for these patients.
Excessive iron build-up in the lungs could be a major cause of COPD. A gene has been found to make certain individuals more susceptible to the lung disease. This gene regulates iron uptake in cells and is called IRP2. In mice those that lacked the gene remained healthy and those with the gene were symptomatic for COPD. A drug given to these mice however prevented additional lung damage and even reversed COPD’s effects.
This study goes some way to prove that people may have a genetic predisposition to developing COPD. If this gene is expressed then there is an excessive build-up of iron in the cells, particularly in the mitochondria. Iron is needed by the cell but in a delicate balance and too much can cause haemochromatosis and leads to mitochondrial dysfunction and they cannot utilise oxygen effectively and cannot produce energy for the cell. This leads to inflammation and damage to the lung’s air sacs and cells in the airways. When mice in the study were given a drug ‘DFP’ this drug binds to excess iron and relocates it to other cells in the body that actually need it and in doing so prevented and reversed the lung inflammation. This drug is already approved to treat thalassaemia and therefore could quickly be incorporated into a new treatment regime for COPD patients.
Therefore too much iron could be the cause of COPD and too little iron could worsen the symptoms. If further studies continue to prove these findings then it could not be too long before COPD could become a more treatable and reversible condition.
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Iron deficiency can worsen COPD symptons

Scientists believe that those who suffer from lung disease may suffer more severe symptoms due to a shortage of iron, which could be easily rectified with regular intravenous iron injections.

iron supplement

Iron deficiency is more common in patients with COPD than in those without the lung condition, according to the results of a study published in the BMJ. Its been found that one in five COPD patients has iron deficiency and these patients also suffered from lower oxygen levels, more frequent flare-ups and increased shortness of breath and coughing. Iron-deficiency is traditionally associated automatically with anaemia but iron is essential for many other processes within the body.
“We were really quite surprised how big the differences in oxygen levels were between patients with low iron and those with normal iron levels. The amount of oxygen in the blood is a strong predictor of life expectancy in COPD, so these findings are potentially very significant for patients,” says Professor Peter Robbins from the University of Oxford who led the work.
Levels of C-Reactive Protein are significantly higher in iron-deficient COPD patients, which means inflammation. The inflammation is driving the iron deficiency and the idea that inflammation causes iron deficiency is important. It suggests that other conditions may also result in iron-deficiency caused by inflammation and that other conditions could be treated with iron to help reduce the secondary symptoms caused by a lack of iron. Intravenous iron therapy has been shown to be beneficial in other chronic disease and should be explored as a potential new treatment for COPD patients.
Giving up smoking is the most important thing to do if you have COPD but many patients are still left with troubling symptoms that interfere with their daily lives and can lead to hospital admission. The current treatments target the airways which helps some symptoms but doesn’t improve the patient’s exercise ability and quality of life as much. Iron deficiency seems to act in a variety of ways to worsen the impact of COPD so treating patients with iron can help improve patient’s quality of life, exercise abilities and general symptoms and reduce exacerbations.
There is the counter argument that iron injections would not resolve the problem as the patients usually are not short of iron in their food intake, it is just how the body utilises the iron when suffering from bouts of inflammation that causes the anaemia. Increasing the levels of dietary iron intake will therefore not resolve the issue however perhaps taking iron in the form of a supplemental multivitamin may help.
More research is needed into how best to correct the iron-deficiency and improve the lives of COPD patients.

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