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Iron supplements help only certain non-anemic women

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Among women who are not anemic, only those with tissue-iron deficiencies can benefit from taking iron supplements, concludes a new study by Cornell University nutritionists.

"Supplementation makes no difference in exercise-training improvements in women with low iron storage who are not yet tissue-iron deficient or anemic," says Thomas Brownlie, the first author of the study and a Cornell doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences.

Women with low body iron, but who are not anemic, may not experience any improvements following training if their tissues are low in iron. Whereas women who have low iron storage in their liver only, and who are not anemic, appear to have no functional impairments.

The study, published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004; 79:437-43), is the first to show differences between the physical abilities of nonanemic women with low-liver vs. low-tissue iron. The researchers are also the first to show that low iron without anemia does have functional consequences in humans.

About 10 to 12 percent of U.S. women and 40 to 80 percent of women in developing countries are iron deficient but not anemic, yet most are unaware of their condition. The new study provides mounting evidence that mild to moderate iron depletion should be of greater concern.

It has long been known that iron-deficiency anemia compromises physical work capacity because of decreased oxygen delivery to the working muscles and decreased ability to produce energy at the tissue level. In previous work, the Cornell researchers had shown that mild iron deficiency also reduces endurance, the capacity for physical work and exercise performance, and that iron supplementation improves exercise training.

"Millions of women who are mildly iron deficient must work harder than necessary when exercising or working physically, and they can't reap the benefits of endurance training very easily," says Jere Haas, the Meinig Pro
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Contact: Susan S. Lang
SSL4@cornell.edu
607-255-3613
Cornell University News Service
19-May-2004


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