Unrecognized iron deficiency can impair immunity in older women

September 29, 2004

Iron deficiency, which can masquerade as routine old age symptoms, was found to impair measures of immunity from 28 to 50 percent in a group of seemingly healthy, well-nourished, homebound, older women, age 60 and above, in a Penn State study.

The study leader, Dr. Namanjeet Ahluwalia, associate professor of nutrition, says, "Iron deficiency in our study was associated with impairments on two measures of immunity at levels that may render older adults more vulnerable to infections."

"Older women can suffer iron deficiencies because of the effects of aging. It's best to be checked if you sense changes, such as being fatigued easily, breathlessness, attention problems, or frequent infections," she adds. "It's not necessarily aging and could be a problem related to undernutrition, specifically iron deficiency. However, iron supplementation should not be started without lab work and a doctor's order."

Ahluwalia will describe the study findings in a presentation at the 4th European Congress on Nutrition and Health in the Elderly in France in November. Her results are also detailed in a paper, "Immune Function is Impaired in Iron-Deficient, Homebound, Older Women," published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Her co-authors are Jianquin Sun, postdoctoral fellow, Deanna Krause, graduate student, Dr. Andrea Mastro, professor of microbiology and cell biology, and Gordon Handte, director, clinical laboratory, University Health Services.

The study included 72 women, 60 or older, living in three rural Pennsylvania counties who were receiving services, such as meals or assistance with activities of daily living, from the Office on Aging. All were considered healthy, free of inflammation and generally well nourished.

Iron assessments on blood samples provided by the participants identified women as iron deficient if their iron stores were depleted and they had abnormal results on two or more other iron status tests.

Ahluwalia says, "Although half the iron-deficient women were anemic, the rate of iron deficiency we found was moderate. The subjects ranged from a few who were severely deficient and had low hemoglobin, to those who had normal hemoglobin and whose other tests were subnormal."

Cells from the blood samples of both the iron-sufficient and iron-deficient women were subjected to several tests of immune response. In one test, a type of white cell, called T-cells, was stimulated with two chemicals that simulate response to infection in the body. Normally, T-cells respond by multiplying when faced with such a challenge. In the iron deficient women, the T-cells response was only 40 to 50 percent that of the iron-sufficient women.

In another test, granulocytes, another type of white blood cell, were challenged with bacteria. Granulocytes usually ingest bacteria and kill them with an oxidative burst. While the extent to which granulocytes ingested the bacteria did not differ significantly by iron status, the magnitude of the oxidative burst was 28 percent less in iron-deficient women suggesting a potentially reduced capacity of these cells to kill bacteria.

Ahluwalia notes, "We are conducting a follow-up project to study the effects on immunity of correcting iron deficiency via supplements. We are currently recruiting women age 60 or above for that study."
The current study was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Penn State

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.