Riddle me this: why do women live longer than men? One of the leading theories is that we (women) on average have a lower quantity of iron in our bodies. Why? Because we lose iron regularly during our menstrual cycle and during delivery. That is my Mom’s, Dr. Barbara Polla, preferred theory, as iron chelation is her area of expertise, one that she has specialized in and published dozens of scientific papers about. Iron chelation is based on the premise that excess iron accelerates aging, in particular skin aging.
Indeed, while iron is essential for aerobic life, oxygen transport, energy production, and red blood cell function (if you suffer from anemia, please follow your doctor’s recommendations), iron is also involved in the oxidation processes, increasing the production of the hydroxyl radical (remember, oxygen radicals are involved in all signs of skin aging). Indeed, iron plays a major role in oxidative stress via Fenton chemistry, where iron(II) is stoichiometrically oxidized by H2O2 to iron(III), producing the highly damaging oxygen radical .OH (Gutteridge and Halliwell, 2000).
Translation: excess iron acts as a catalyst in the production of damaging free radicals, which are responsible for the creation of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging.
The most extreme clinical case that illustrates the damaging role of excess iron is a condition known as haemochromatosis. This disease involves a disorder in the gastrointestinal absorption of iron, which leads to iron accumulation in internal organs and in the skin. The skin, specifically, then presents highly accelerated signs of skin aging.
Studies have been conducted to show that treating the skin with synthetic iron chelators (molecules that neutralize iron, thus making it unavailable to act as a catalyst) will delay the onset of redness and wrinkles after UV exposure for up to 11 weeks (study on hairless mice, Bissett et al., 1994).
Translation: skin exposed to UV first treated with iron chelators does not get as sunburnt or as wrinkled as skin not treated with iron chelators.
So what does this mean for you? Two things.
1. Look for skin care products that contain natural iron chelators, such as quercetin (present in blueberry, grape seed, and green tea extracts).
- Unless your doctor recommends you take iron, favor supplements (e.g. multi-vitamins) that do not contain iron. My favorite? Emergen-C Super Orange.
- Last but not least, donate blood – it can save others, and can be good for you too!
In the case of iron and skin aging, less is truly more.