Background: Alcohol increases body iron stores. Alcohol and iron may increase oxidative stress and the risk of alcohol-related liver disease. The relationship between low or "safe" levels of alcohol use and indices of body iron stores, and the factors that affect the alcohol-iron relationship, have not been fully characterized. Other aspects of the biological response to alcohol use have been reported to depend on iron status.
Methods: We have measured serum iron, transferrin, and ferritin as indices of iron stores in 3375 adult twin subjects recruited through the Australian Twin Registry. Information on alcohol use and dependence and smoking was obtained from questionnaires and interviews.
Results: Serum iron and ferritin increased progressively across classes of alcohol intake. The effects of beer consumption were greater than those of wine or spirits. Ferritin concentration was significantly higher in subjects who had ever been alcohol dependent. There was no evidence of interactions between HFE genotype or body mass index and alcohol. Alcohol intake-adjusted carbohydrate-deficient transferrin was increased in women in the lowest quartile of ferritin results, whereas adjusted gamma-glutamyltransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase values were increased in subjects with high ferritin.
Conclusions: Alcohol intake at low level increases ferritin and, by inference, body iron stores. This may be either beneficial or harmful, depending on circumstances. The response of biological markers of alcohol intake can be affected by body iron stores; this has implications for test sensitivity and specificity and for variation in biological responses to alcohol use.