Iron Intake and Body Stores

Effects of Iron Intake on Iron Stores in Elderly Men and Women: Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Results

Philip J. Garry, PhD, William C. Hunt, and Richard N. Baumgartner, PhD

Clinical Nutrition Program, University of New Mexico, School of Medicine, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Objective: For middle aged and elderly subjects there is a concern that increased iron intake, especially heme iron associated with consumption of red meat, leads to increased iron stores resulting in disturbed glucose homeostasis and risk for cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of heme, non-heme and iron supplementation on iron stores in healthy elderly men and women.

Method: We conducted a 10 year longitudinal study (48 men and 77 women) and a one year cross-sectional study (165 men and 226 women) in healthy elderly men and women enrolled in the New Mexico Aging Process Study. Iron stores were estimated by serum ferritin concentrations and iron intake was determined by three-day food records in the longitudinal study and by a food frequency questionnaire in the cross-sectional study.

Results: We found no association between heme iron intake and iron stores in either the longitudinal or cross sectional study. In the cross-sectional study we found in women, but not in men, that age and supplemental iron intake were significantly and positively associated with increased iron stores.

Conclusion: Iron stores in elderly men are thought to reach steady state levels where iron absorption is adjusted to a level just sufficient to cover basal iron losses. In elderly women, we speculate that not enough time has elapsed for postmenopausal women to reach steady state levels of iron stores resulting in increases in iron absorption with age. Another factor is that use of hormone replacement therapy could further delay some women in reaching steady state iron levels due to continued menstrual blood losses.

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