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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jul;72(1 Suppl):265S-271S.

Iron needs during pregnancy: do we need to rethink our targets?

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  • 1Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada.


This paper argues that current estimates of the need for absorbed iron, estimates of iron absorption, and hence estimates of iron requirements for pregnant women greatly depend on what is determined as the desirable or target hemoglobin concentration (goal). The existing goal appears to be based on the maximal hemoglobin concentration that can be achieved with iron supplementation of well-nourished women; this is a situation that can be expected to minimize iron absorption efficiency. I am unaware of attempts to define hemoglobin or anemia goals based on functional criteria (health of infant or mother). The current approach may seriously overestimate iron need and discourage food-based programs; furthermore, it may declare operational iron supplementation programs to be failures when, in fact, many programs may be successful in preventing functional effects of iron deficiency anemia. This is illustrated with data from a completed comparative study of daily and weekly iron supplementation. The final plea is to set aside existing traditions and, instead, attempt to develop functional criteria for anemia and establish functional goals of hemoglobin concentrations to be achieved during pregnancy.

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