High iron stores and possible increased health risks in the elderly

November 21, 2002

Much recent research suggests that iron repletion may increase the risk of several chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular disease, but the extent to which dietary factors contribute to high iron stores is still unclear. Publishing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Fleming et al. evaluated the diets of a group of elderly subjects who were part of the Framingham Heart Study, and found that several dietary factors are associated with a risk for high iron stores.

Among the entire Framingham Heart Study cohort, ≈13% had high iron stores according to serum ferritin levels, in contrast to only 2.7% who were iron deficient and 1.2% who were anemic.1 The 246 men and 368 women in the sample averaged 75 years old and had a medium serum ferritin concentration of 94 ¦Ìg/L; men had significantly higher serum ferritin values than women. The subjects¡¯ usual dietary intakes were measured using a food-frequency questionnaire.2 Not unexpectedly, among subjects who took supplemental iron the risk of high iron stores was as much as 4 times that of subjects who did not take supplements.3 Those who ate more than 4 servings of red meat a week had a 3-fold likelihood of high iron stores; whereas, poultry and seafood were unrelated to risk. The 30% of participants who consumed more than 3 servings of fruit or fruit juice daily had a significantly higher risk of high iron stores, which the authors propose may be due to the enhancement of iron bioavailability from vitamin C and other organic acids in fruit. Whole grains, when eaten more than 7 times weekly, substantially lowered the risk of high iron stores in comparison to refined grains.

According to the authors, elderly persons who consume a typical Western diet high in red meat or who take unprescribed iron supplements may be increasing their risk of acquiring high iron stores and, thus, their risk of developing chronic disease.5
Fleming, Diana J et al. Dietary factors associated with the risk of high iron stores in the elderly Framingham Heart Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:1375-84.

Beard, John. Dietary iron intakes and elevated iron stores in the elderly: is it time to abandon the set-point hypothesis of regulation of absorption? Am J Clin Nutr 2002:76:1189-90.

This media release is provided by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition to provide current information on nutrition-related research. This information should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, consult your doctor. To see the complete text of this article, please go to:

http://www.faseb.org/ajcn/Dec2002/13508.Fleming.PDF or http://www.faseb.org/ajcn/Dec2002/14235.Beard.PDF.

For more information, please contact: rwood@hnrc.tufts.edu or its@psu.edu.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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