Background: Fe2+ released from tissue iron stores may accelerate lipid peroxidation by virtue of its pro-oxidant properties and thus promote early atherogenesis.
Methods and results: The present prospective survey addresses the potential association between serum ferritin concentrations and the 5-year progression of carotid atherosclerosis as assessed by ultrasonographic follow-up evaluations. The study population comprises a random sample of 826 men and women 40 to 79 years old. Serum ferritin was one of the strongest risk predictors of overall progression of atherosclerosis. The main part of this association appeared to act through modification of the atherogenic potential of LDL cholesterol (OR [95% CI] for a 1-SD unit increase in ferritin at LDL levels of 2.5, 3.6, and 4.9 mmol/L: 1.55 [1.30 to 1.85], 1.77 [1.40 to 2.24], and 2.05 [1.50 to 2.80]; P=.0012 for effect modification). Changes in iron stores during the follow-up period modified atherosclerosis risk, in that a lowering was beneficial and further iron accumulation exerted unfavorable effects. All these findings applied equally to incident atherosclerosis and the extension of preexisting atherosclerotic lesions. The significance of prominent iron stores in the development of carotid stenosis was clearly less pronounced. Finally, ferritin and LDL cholesterol showed a synergistic association with incident cardiovascular disease and death (n=59).
Conclusions: The present study provided strong epidemiological evidence for a role of iron stores in early atherogenesis and suggests promotion of lipid peroxidation as the main underlying pathomechanism. This hypothesis could in part explain the sex difference in atherosclerotic vascular disease.