KEEPING blood iron levels in check could be key to ageing better and living longer, according to new genetic research.

An international study analysing DNA from more than one million people has identified genes which might explain why some people age at different rates than others.

It suggests that having high levels of iron in the blood tends to reduce our healthy years of life, which could shed light on why diets high in red meat are linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease.

Scientists from Edinburgh University and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany pinpointed ten regions of the human genome linked to long lifespan, healthspan and longevity.

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They found that gene sets linked to iron were overrepresented in their analysis of all three measures of ageing.

The researchers confirmed this using a statistical method – known as Mendelian randomisation – that suggested that genes involved in metabolising iron in the blood are partly responsible for a healthy long life.

Blood iron is affected by diet and abnormally high or low levels are linked to age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and a decline in the body’s ability to fight infection in older age.

The researchers say that designing a drug that could mimic the influence of genetic variation on iron metabolism could be a future step to overcome some of the effects of ageing, but caution that more work is required.

Dr Paul Timmers from the Usher Institute at Edinburgh, said: “We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage.

"We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease.”

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Biological ageing – the rate at which our bodies decline over time – varies between people and drives the world’s most fatal diseases, including heart disease, dementia and cancers.

The researchers pooled information from three public datasets to enable an analysis in unprecedented detail.

The combined dataset was equivalent to studying 1.75 million lifespans or more than 60,000 extremely long-lived people.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and is published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Dr Joris Deelen from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, said: “Our ultimate aim is to discover how ageing is regulated and find ways to increase health during ageing.

"The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies.”