Fleming et al.conducted a study of iron nutrition in the elderly, who are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest that excess iron stores pose a greater health risk than iron deficiency in the elderly, because elevated iron stores have been linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
The 1016 participants were all surviving members of the original cohort of the Framingham Heart study and ranged in age from 67 to 96. In contrast to the relatively low incidence of depleted iron stores in the study population (3%), the prevalence of high iron stores was much greater (12.9%). To determine the effects of chronic disease conditions on the results, the researchers identified a subset of 182 subjects with indications of chronic inflammation, infection, liver disease, hereditary blood disorders or active cancer. This group exhibited a significantly different profile of iron nutrition than the normal group of 834 subjects, with 1.5-fold greater incidence of high iron stores and a 2.6-fold higher prevalence of anemia. Whereas the positive relation between high iron stores and disease remains controversial, the anemia of chronic disease is a well-recognized disorder that accompanies most acute or chronic conditions.
Given the adequacy of iron status in this population of free-living elderly, the use of unprescribed iron supplements could be detrimental.