That was the key finding of a study led by Taipei Medical University.
Researchers explored this relationship by conducting a cross-sectional study involving 117 Chinese women (19 healthy controls and 98 non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients). The participants had underwent blood tests and had their body composition and BMI recorded.
The researchers wrote: "Our study revealed that the serum iron:ferritin ratio was associated with a healthy body composition, indicated as increased muscle mass and decreased visceral fat mass, and a reduced risk of moderate and severe fatty liver progression in young adult women, but not in middle-aged women."
Compared to young adult women (below the age of 45), middle-aged women (aged 45 and above) tended to weigh more, and have lower levels of serum iron and higher levels of serum ferritin.
They were also more likely to suffer from dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome, and severe non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
In contrast, young adult women had higher serum iron levels, and lower ferritin, glycated haemoglobin and free haemoglobin levels than middle-aged women.
Additionally, young adult women had a lower percentage of visceral and body fat mass, and a higher percentage of skeletal muscle mass.
The study found that the main reason for the aforementioned differences between young adult women and middle-aged women was age-related factors such as obesity, which “affect the body’s iron status and influence fatty liver progression in women”.
Furthermore, a decrease in serum iron could affect muscle growth in middle-aged women, with elevated serum ferritin “likely to reflect a degree of chronic inflammation and tissue iron retention in middle‐aged women”.
At the same time, dietary patterns affect iron levels: a high intake of beef, lamb, eggs, dairy, whole grains, and fruits, alongside a low intake of refined carbohydrates, and stir‐ and deep‐fried foods was found to result in adequate iron levels in young adult women.
The study said that “this was associated with a 90% reduced risk of mild versus moderate and severe fatty liver progression. Hence, it is likely that the serum iron:ferritin ratio reflects an adequate supply of iron to maintain a healthy body composition and, consequently, protect the liver against iron overload-related liver injury."
The paper concluded that “additional studies are required to determine dietary risk factors for iron metabolism alterations and fatty liver progression in middle-aged women”.
“Serum Iron:Ferritin Ratio Predicts Healthy Body Composition and Reduced Risk of Severe Fatty Liver in Young Adult Women”
Authors: Nindy Sabrina, et al.