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Hemoglobin (Hb) is the main carrier of oxygen. In general, high-end Hb levels within the normal range are considered beneficial for health1. However, activation of the hypoxia response has been shown to protect mice against metabolic dysfunction2-4. We used Hb levels as an indicator for oxygenation status and studied its association with >170 anthropometric and metabolic parameters in two Finnish birth cohorts both in cross-sectional and longitudinal design (max n = 7,175). Here we show a positive linear association between Hb levels and body mass index (BMI). Subjects with the lower Hb levels had better glucose tolerance, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, less adverse metabolite profiles and lower inflammatory load. Notably, these associations were not only mediated by the lower BMI, and the effect size of many of them increased with age. Polygenic risk score (PRS) analyses indicated shared genetic determinants between Hb levels and BMI, insulin, triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels. Mendelian randomization (MR) analyses could not demonstrate causal relationships between Hb and metabolic parameters. However, manipulation of Hb levels by venesection in mice showed evidence for causal associations with body weight and metabolic parameters. Our findings suggest that lower-end normal Hb levels may be favorable for systemic metabolism involving mild chronic activation of the hypoxia response. Therefore modulation of Hb levels could be a novel strategy towards maintenance of metabolic health.

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