Lower hemoglobin may protect against obesity and metabolic syndrome

A new study led by the University of Oulu in Finland refutes the belief that high haemoglobin levels are always desirable for health. A study based on two large human cohorts as well as experimental work supported that lower haemoglobin levels may protect against both obesity and metabolic syndrome. The phenomenon may be related to the body’s response to low-oxygen conditions and is used, for example, by endurance athletes in high-altitude training. 

Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that is responsible for transporting oxygen to the tissues of the body. Hemoglobin levels vary from one individual to another, with normal levels in Finnish population ranging from 117 to 155 grams per litre in females and 134 to 167 grams per litre in males. 

A recent study published in the high-profile scholarly journal Science Advances showed that individual differences in hemoglobin levels are strongly associated with metabolic health in adulthood. The hemoglobin levels were associated with body mass index, glucose metabolism, blood lipids and blood pressure, with subjects having lower hemoglobin levels being healthier in terms of metabolic measures. The study examined hemoglobin values within the normal range.   

We found a clear association between hemoglobin levels and key cardiovascular traits, and the associations became more pronounced as the subjects aged,” said the principal investigators, Professor Juha Auvinen, doctoral student Joona Tapio and postdoctoral researcher Ville Karhunen.  

Obesity and metabolic syndrome are major health problems worldwide, connected with numerous comorbidities and premature mortality. Half of Finnish adults are overweight and a quarter have metabolic syndrome. Childhood obesity is also increasing, and the same phenomenon can be seen globally. New ways of preventing and treating obesity are urgently needed. 

The research has been funded by the Academy of Finland and numerous Finnish foundations as well as the European Union.

Read more information about this study here.

Source: University of Oulu