Int J Epidemiol - (-) - [2023-02-11; online 2023-02-11]
Increased iron stores have been associated with elevated risks of different infectious diseases, suggesting that iron supplementation may increase the risk of infections. However, these associations may be biased by confounding or reverse causation. This is important, since up to 19% of the population takes iron supplementation. We used Mendelian randomization (MR) to bypass these biases and estimate the causal effect of iron on infections. As instrumental variables, we used genetic variants associated with iron biomarkers in two genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of European ancestry participants. For outcomes, we used GWAS results from the UK Biobank, FinnGen, the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative or 23andMe, for seven infection phenotypes: 'any infections', combined, COVID-19 hospitalization, candidiasis, pneumonia, sepsis, skin and soft tissue infection (SSTI) and urinary tract infection (UTI). Most of our analyses showed increasing iron (measured by its biomarkers) was associated with only modest changes in the odds of infectious outcomes, with all 95% odds ratios confidence intervals within the 0.88 to 1.26 range. However, for the three predominantly bacterial infections (sepsis, SSTI, UTI), at least one analysis showed a nominally elevated risk with increased iron stores (P <0.05). Using MR, we did not observe an increase in risk of most infectious diseases with increases in iron stores. However for bacterial infections, higher iron stores may increase odds of infections. Hence, using genetic variation in iron pathways as a proxy for iron supplementation, iron supplements are likely safe on a population level, but we should continue the current practice of conservative iron supplementation during bacterial infections or in those at high risk of developing them.