Did you know that iron consumption can make malaria symptoms worse?

Iron and malaria... for most of us there is absolutely no connection between the two. And yet, experts suggest these two form a dangerious liason.
Team Health Shots Updated: 13 Oct 2023, 03:11 pm IST
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From a pregnant woman to the elderly–consuming iron is a must for everyone. There are a lot of studies that go gaga about this nutrient because it is responsible for red blood cells in our body. And when that doesn’t happen, people develop anemia.

But even iron, which is an essential nutrient, has a dark side to it too–especially if you are infected with malaria.     

That’s why Dr Niti Kautish, senior consultant, obstetrics and gynecology from Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad is here to throw some light on how iron is important for us and why it can have side effects for those who are dealing with malaria.

Iron is important but in moderation. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Why is iron important for us?
There is no doubt that this nutrient is very crucial. “Iron is an important component of hemoglobin and helps in transporting oxygen throughout the body,” says Dr Kautish. “But at the same time an excess iron can also be very dangerous. It promotes the formation of damaging oxidative radicals. This can also deposit in organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas which can lead to conditions like cirrhosis, heart failure, and diabetes.”

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences has noticed a boost in metabolism and psychological processes in those people who have enough iron in their daily diet. 

Dr Kautish adds:

Since both iron deficiency and high concentration of iron can compromise cellular function, the levels in the cells must be regulated precisely.

So, please remember that moderation is the key.

If you are infected with malaria then iron can impact your health adversely
Dr Kautish says: “Malaria infections are a major global cause of anemia. The relationship between malaria and iron is often debated. It has been a subject of discussion in the global health community since 2006, ever since a large-scale trial on the island of Pemba discovered that iron supplementation in children related to the rise in malaria-related mortality.”

She also quoted a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), saying: “Through the study was conducted but let us further understand the relationship between iron and malaria; and how iron worsens malaria infection.”

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“Malaria parasites feed on iron. Organisms have a protein called ferroprotein, which prevents toxic buildup of iron in RBC. It also protects the cells against malaria infection. By studying mice and samples from malaria patients, researchers found out that high concentration of iron interferes with ferroprotein,” explains Dr Kautish. 

“The researchers observed that lack of ferroprotein in erythroid cells (red blood cells and their precursors) allowed iron to accumulate to toxic levels inside RBCs. The mice with intact ferroprotein were more stable, had less parasites and better outcomes as compared to the mice that lacked ferroprotein”, she continues.

Dr Kautish further explains that, “It was also observed that a hormone called hepcidin regulates ferroprotein in red blood cells and their precursors. The hormone is more abundant in high iron concentration and lowers the ferroprotein level. It also prevents iron from being removed from the cells.”

Expecting mothers are vulnerable to this effect
If you are expecting and god forbid contract malaria then things can get really tricky. Dr Kautish says that, “The researchers also studied if the ferroprotein mutation Q248H, which is found in African population protects against malaria.”

Pregnant women are more prone to this adverse effect of iron, especially if they are hit by malaria. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“After studying children hospitalized for malaria in Zambia, it was observed that nearly 20% of the children who had the mutation, had fewer malarial parasites and tolerated fewer for a longer period before visiting the hospital. The results stated that the mutation protects ferroprotein from hepcidin’s effects, and thus protects against malaria. This further explains the presence of mutation in the people living in malaria endemic regions,” she continued.

“In another study on 290 pregnant women in Ghana, it was observed that the 9%, who had the ferroprotein mutation Q248H, were comparatively less prone to pregnancy-associated malaria, in which malaria parasites cause adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes by accumulating in the placenta,” she concluded.

Bottom line? As we are hitting the summer season, diseases like malaria and dengue will be on the rise. So, please take every preventive step that you can take to protect yourself.  

(With inputs from IANS)

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