Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Ivy
Heme iron is a form of iron found only in blood and muscle tissue. Although heme iron from meat is more readily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, people who do not eat animal foods get adequate iron from plant-based sources like whole grains, legumes, beans, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables. Iron supplementation is not recommended unless medical tests reveal a serious iron deficiency (anemia).
Why Is Heme Iron a Concern?
The human body naturally regulates iron absorption from plant-based sources, thus preventing iron overload. Heme iron from animal foods, however, is readily absorbed and not well regulated by the body. Once ingested and absorbed, the body has no mechanism to remove excess iron.
Although adequate dietary iron is required for essential functioning of the body, iron is also a pro-oxidant, and too much of it can induce oxidative stress (inflammation) and DNA damage due to the iron-associated production of a dangerous free radical called hydroxyl (-OH ). Specifically, heme iron has been linked to metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, cancer and other serious medical conditions.
How to Reduce the Associated Risk
A whole food plant-based diet may naturally control iron in the body. Phytates found in plants are a powerful natural inhibitor of the iron-associated production of hydroxyl free radicals. Dietary phytates found in plant foods (particularly beans, legumes and whole grains) appear to inactivate iron in a process called iron chelation.
The information on this page has been compiled from the research presented in the videos listed. Sources for each video can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab.
All Videos for Heme Iron
Is Heme Iron the Reason Meat Is Carcinogenic?
Rectal biopsies taken before and after eating meat determine the potentially DNA-damaging dose of heme.
Heme-Induced N-Nitroso Compounds and Fat Oxidation
What do clinical studies show about the role of heme in the formation of a class of carcinogenic compounds?
Does Heme Iron Cause Cancer?
Laboratory models suggest that extreme doses of heme iron may be detrimental, but what about the effects of nutritional doses in humans? A look at heme’s carcinogenic effects.
What About the Heme in Impossible Burgers?
Is heme just an innocent bystander in the link between meat intake and breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure?
Donating Blood to Prevent Cancer?
Prioritizing plant-based sources of iron may be more effective than giving blood at reducing the risk of potentially “ferrotoxic” (iron-related) diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Donating Blood to Prevent Heart Disease?
An extraordinary thing happened when those at high risk for heart disease were randomized to give blood—and it had nothing to do with their heart.
Best Foods to Reduce Stroke Risk
What are the protective components of dietary patterns and foods associated with lower risk of cerebrovascular disease, or stroke?
The Role of Poultry Viruses in Human Cancers
Does a cancer-causing herpes virus in chickens pose a public health threat?
Why Is Meat a Risk Factor for Diabetes?
Potential culprits include the trans fat in meat, the saturated fat, cholesterol, heme iron, advanced glycation end products (glycotoxins), animal protein (especially leucine), zoonotic viruses, and industrial pollutants that accumulate up the food chain.
Food as Medicine: Preventing & Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet
Dr. Greger has scoured the world’s scholarly literature on clinical nutrition and developed this new presentation based on the latest in cutting edge research exploring the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing some of our most feared causes of death and disability.
The Safety of Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron
Heme iron, the type found predominantly in blood and muscle, is absorbed better than the non-heme iron that predominates in plants, but may increase the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Why Was Heart Disease Rare in the Mediterranean?
What was it about the diet on the Greek isle of Crete in the 1950s that made it so healthy?