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Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jan;73(1):93-8.

Effect of ascorbic acid intake on nonheme-iron absorption from a complete diet.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.



Ascorbic acid has a pronounced enhancing effect on the absorption of dietary nonheme iron when assessed by feeding single meals to fasting subjects. This contrasts with the negligible effect on iron balance of long-term supplementation with vitamin C.


Our goal was to examine the effect of vitamin C on nonheme-iron absorption from a complete diet rather than from single meals.


Iron absorption from a complete diet was measured during 3 separate dietary periods in 12 subjects by having the subjects ingest a labeled wheat roll with every meal for 5 d. The diet was freely chosen for the first dietary period and was then altered to maximally decrease or increase the dietary intake of vitamin C during the second and third periods.


There was no significant difference in mean iron absorption among the 3 dietary periods despite a range of mean daily intakes of dietary vitamin C of 51-247 mg/d. When absorption values were adjusted for differences in iron status and the 3 absorption periods were pooled, multiple regression analysis indicated that iron absorption correlated negatively with dietary phosphate (P = 0.0005) and positively with ascorbic acid (P = 0.0069) and animal tissue (P = 0.0285).


The facilitating effect of vitamin C on iron absorption from a complete diet is far less pronounced than that from single meals. These findings may explain why several prior studies did not show a significant effect on iron status of prolonged supplementation with vitamin C.

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