Risk of Iron Overload in Obesity and Implications in Metabolic Health

Aoibhín Moore Heslin, Aisling O’Donnell, Maria Buffini, Anne P. Nugent, Janette Walton, Albert Flynn, Breige A. McNulty*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Excessive adiposity is associated with several metabolic perturbations including disturbances in iron homeostasis. Increased systemic inflammation in obesity stimulates expression of the iron regulatory hormone hepcidin, which can result in a maldistribution of bodily iron, which may be implicated in metabolic dysfunction. This study aimed to investigate the effect of adiposity and any associated inflammation on iron homeostasis and the potential implications of dysregulated iron metabolism on metabolic health. Analyses are based on a subsample from the cross-sectional Irish National Adult Nutrition Survey (2008–2010) (n = 1120). Ferritin status and risk of iron overload were determined based on established WHO ferritin ranges. Participants were classed as having a healthy % body fat or as having overfat or obesity based on age- and gender-specific % body fat ranges as determined by bioelectrical impedance. Biomarkers of iron status were examined in association with measures of body composition, serum adipocytokines and markers of metabolic health. Excessive % body fat was significantly associated with increased serum hepcidin and ferritin and an increased prevalence of severe risk of iron overload amongst males independent of dietary iron intake. Elevated serum ferritin displayed significant positive associations with serum triglycerides and markers of glucose metabolism, with an increased but non-significant presentation of metabolic risk factors amongst participants with overfat and obesity at severe risk of iron overload. Increased adiposity is associated with dysregulations in iron homeostasis, presenting as increased serum hepcidin, elevated serum ferritin and an increased risk of iron overload, with potential implications in impairments in metabolic health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1539
Number of pages16
Issue number5
Early online date02 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Health Research Board under their joint Food for Health Research Initiative (2007–2012) (15/F/673).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • ferritin
  • hepcidin
  • iron overload
  • body fat
  • inflammation
  • metabolic health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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