"The novel thing here is that iron is accumulating in places it does not normally accumulate," said Mitch Knutson, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and a study co-author. "Such iron accumulation in muscle was quite unexpected. This may be of concern because more people are genetically predisposed to developing iron overload than we originally thought."
The problem occurs when metals such as iron accumulate in the mitochondria and react with oxygen. Iron can change the chemical structure of oxygen, triggering its metamorphosis into a free radical, an unstable atom that can upset the delicate balance inside the mitochondria. The result? Leeuwenburgh describes it sort of like internal rust.
"Not all free radicals are harmful," Leeuwenburgh said. "To just use antioxidants to neutralize all free radicals is a huge misconception because some radicals are helpful. You just need to try and target very specific free radicals that form in specific parts of the body."
Researchers don't know exactly what causes iron to accumulate in mitochondria in aging animals, but a breakdown in how iron is transported through cells could be one reason why, Leeuwenburgh said. Understanding how caloric restriction limits the problem in rats could help researchers better understand how to combat it, he added.
Russell T. Hepple, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada, said the findings are another step forward in linking iron to muscle cell death, but there are more questions researchers must answer.
|Contact: April Frawley Birdwell|
University of Florida