These cells, along with myelin, have the highest levels of iron of any cells in the brain, Bartzokis says, and circumstantial evidence has long supported the possibility that brain iron levels might be a risk factor for age-related diseases like Alzheimer's.
The researchers used an MRI technique that can measure the amount of brain iron in ferritin, a protein that stores iron, in 31 patients with Alzheimer's and 68 healthy control subjects.
In the presence of diseases like Alzheimer's, as the structure of cells breaks down, the amount of water increases in the brain, which can mask the detection of iron, according to Bartzokis.
"The accumulation of iron in the brain may be influenced by modifying environmental factors, such as how much red meat and iron dietary supplements we consume and, in women, having hysterectomies before menopause," he said.
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