Iron Deficiency

Does Iron Status Affect Skin Infection Risk?

A recent study suggests iron status may play a role in the risk of skin and skin structure infections, with higher levels associated with a higher risk for skin infections, such as cellulitis.

“Iron is integral to many physiological processes, and variations in its levels, even within the normal range, can have implications for health,” the researchers said. They conducted a mendelian randomization study to examine the broad clinical implications of varying iron status using genetic and clinical data from the UK Biobank (N=424,439). Three genetic instruments were identified, and data were linked to the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES).

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The researchers identified 904 distinct phenotypes in their analyses. After correcting for multiple testing, they found that the 3 genetic instruments for systemic iron status demonstrated consistent evidence of a causal effect of higher iron status decreasing risk of traits related to anemia (odds ratio [OR] 0.72; 95% CI, 0.64-0.81) and hypercholesterolemia (OR 0.88; 95% CI, 0.83-0.93). However, higher iron status demonstrated increasing risk of traits related to infection of the skin and related structures, with OR of 1.25 (95% CI, 1.10-1.42) for cellulitis and abscess of the leg, they added.


“Our findings offer novel, to our knowledge, insight into previously unreported effects of iron status, highlighting a potential protective effect of higher iron status on hypercholesterolemia and a detrimental role on risk of skin and skin structure infections,” the researchers concluded. “Given the modifiable and variable nature of iron status, these findings warrant further investigation.”


According to the researchers, the main limitations of the study included the possible bias from pleiotropic effects of the considered genetic variants and misclassification of diagnoses in the HES data and only using data of participants with European ancestry.


Gill D, Benyamin B, Moore LSP, et al. Associations of genetically determined iron status across the phenome: A mendelian randomization study [published online June 20, 2019]. PLoS Med. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002833