Excessive iron intake has been linked to diabetes risk. However, the evidence is inconsistent. This study examined the association between dietary heme and nonheme iron intake and diabetes risk in the Chinese population.
We included 17,026 adults (8,346 men and 8,680 women) who were part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey (1991–2015) prospective cohort. Dietary intake was measured by three consecutive 24-h dietary recalls combined with a household food inventory. Diabetes cases were identified through a questionnaire. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs.
A total of 547 men and 577 women developed diabetes during 202,138 person-years of follow-up. For men, the adjusted HRs (95% CIs) for quintiles of nonheme iron intake were 1.00, 0.77 (0.58–1.02), 0.72 (0.54–0.97), 0.63 (0.46–0.85), and 0.87 (0.64–1.19) (P-nonlinearity = 0.0015). The corresponding HRs (95% CIs) for women were 1.00, 0.63 (0.48–0.84), 0.57 (0.43–0.76), 0.58 (0.43–0.77), and 0.67 (0.49–0.91) (P-nonlinearity < 0.0001). The dose-response curves for the association between nonheme iron and total iron intake and diabetes followed a reverse J shape in men and an L shape in women. No significant associations were observed between heme iron intake and diabetes risk.
Total iron and nonheme iron intake was associated with diabetes risk, following a reverse J-shaped curve in men and an L-shaped curve in women. Sufficient intake of nonheme or total iron might be protective against diabetes, while excessive iron intake might increase the risk of diabetes among men.