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Researchers point to an interesting finding of iron absorption

Posted:  Thursday, November 19, 2015

Women suffering from iron deficiency anaemia are generally treated to a daily iron regimen till the haemoglobin level reads fine. However, is it really helping in preventing this deficiency condition? Swiss researchers in their new study identified that body may not be able to absorb iron from supplements in the required quantities when administered daily! They found a small protein molecule could hamper the absorption.

For the study, results of which are published in the journal Blood, the researchers observed iron absorption of over 50 young women with depleted iron reserves but not yet anaemic for 2 days. They received a daily dose of 40 mg of iron were depleted but who did not yet suffer from anaemia. To analyse iron reabsorption, the researchers used stable iron isotopes namely tablets with increased quantities of iron-57, iron-54 and iron-58, as indicator substances. They could measure endogenous iron absorption by observing isotope ratio changes within the body.

Physiologically, liver begins the production of hepcidin, a small protein consisting or 25 amino acids, in response to iron. In the intestine, hepcidin is responsible for regulation of the iron absorption through the gastrointestinal tract. The researchers also identified the development of hepcidin and how its concentrations affected iron absorption from subsequent doses.

The levels of hepcidin peaked after 6-8 hours and surprisingly, remained high even after 24 hours of the first dose. As a result, it markedly reduced iron absorption from the second dose of the supplement. Traditionally, iron supplements had high doses and were skipped fearing side effects. However, the researchers suggest improving absorption efficiency which would necessitate low doses.

The researchers offered another suggestion for maximising iron absorption. "To improve the percentage of iron absorbed, it would likely be more efficient to wait longer between doses." The researchers are gearing up for further studies to counter limitations of the present one such as small study period (2 days) and selection of subjects (healthy young women without anaemia). The researchers would study the behaviour of the hepcidin concentration over the course of an iron supplementation regimen lasting several weeks.

Iron in huge quantities is toxic and hence hepcidin could be nature’s way to regulate the absorption. Dietary measures to counter iron deficiency anaemia such as consumption of liver, meat, legumes and wholegrain items, black pudding could be good alternatives to supplementation too suggest researchers.

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