Can too much red meat consumption lead to an increased appetite and overeating? Yes, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation which found that dietary iron intake can suppress the hormone leptin that is linked to appetite regulation.

Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Center used an animal model in which male mice were fed high (2000mg/kg) and low-normal (35mg/kg) iron diets for two months, followed by measurements of iron levels in fat tissues. A 115% increase of iron was observed in the mice fed a high-iron diet vs. those receiving the low-normal diet; as well, leptin levels in the blood were 42% lower in mice on the high-iron diet compared to the low-normal group. These findings were then verified through ferritin blood tests from 76 human participants in a previous clinical study.

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Lead author Don McClain, MD, PhD, stated that even in the high-normal range, high levels of iron has been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, fatty liver disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. As a precaution, patients should limit their intake of red meat because iron in red meat is more readily absorbed by the body compared to iron from plants. “We don’t know yet what optimal iron tissue level is, but we are hoping to do a large clinical trial to determine if decreasing iron levels has any effect on weight and diabetes risk,” McClain added. “The better we understand how iron works in the body, the better chance we have of finding new pathways that may be targets for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and other diseases.”

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