Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

Critical Brain Nutrients: Mental Health Harms from Dietary Advice - and Potential Solutions - BOOK HERE

On risks and benefits of iron supplementation recommendations for iron intake revisited.

Schümann K, Ettle T, Szegner B, Elsenhans B, Solomons NW. (2007) J Trace Elem Med Biol.  21(3): 147-68. Epub 2007 Aug 1. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


Iron is an essential trace element with a high prevalence of deficiency in infants and in women of reproductive age from developing countries.

Iron deficiency is frequently associated with anaemia and, thus, with reduced working capacity and impaired intellectual development. Moreover, the risk for premature delivery, stillbirth and impaired host-defence is increased in iron deficiency.

Iron-absorption and -distribution are homeostatically regulated to reduce the risk for deficiency and overload. These mechanisms interact, in part, with the mechanisms of oxidative stress and inflammation and with iron availability to pathogens. In the plasma, fractions of iron may not be bound to transferrin and are hypothesised to participate in atherogenesis. Repleted iron stores and preceding high iron intakes reduce intestinal iron absorption which, however, offers no reliable protection against oral iron overload.

Recommendations for dietary iron intake at different life stages are given by the US Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), by FAO/WHO and by the EU Scientific Committee, among others. They are based, on estimates for iron-losses, iron-bioavailability from the diet, and iron-requirements for metabolism and growth. Differences in choice and interpretation of these estimates lead to different recommendations by the different panels which are discussed in detail.

Assessment of iron-related risks is based on reports of adverse health effects which were used in the attempts to derive an upper safe level for dietary iron intake. Iron-related harm can be due to direct intestinal damage, to oxidative stress, or to stimulated growth of pathogens.

Unfortunately, it is problematic to derive a reproducible cause-effect and dose-response relationship for adverse health effects that suggest a relationship to iron-intake, be they based on mechanistic or epidemiological observations. Corresponding data and interpretations are discussed for the intestinal lumen, the vascular system and for the intracellular and interstitial space, considering interference of the mechanisms of iron homoeostasis as a likely explanation for differences in epidemiological observations.