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J Nutr. 2011 Sep;141(9):1652-6. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.138651. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

Calcium does not inhibit the absorption of 5 milligrams of nonheme or heme iron at doses less than 800 milligrams in nonpregnant women.

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Micronutrients Laboratory, Nutrition and Food Technology Institute, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile.


Calcium is the only known component in the diet that may affect absorption of both nonheme and heme iron. However, the evidence for a calcium effect on iron absorption mainly comes from studies that did not isolate the effect of calcium from that of other dietary components, because it was detected in single-meal studies. Our objective was to establish potential effects of calcium on absorption of nonheme and heme iron and the dose response for this effect in the absence of a meal. Fifty-four healthy, nonpregnant women were selected to participate in 4 iron absorption studies using iron radioactive tracers. We evaluated the effects of calcium doses between 200 and 1500 mg on absorption of 5 mg nonheme iron (as ferrous sulfate). We also evaluated the effects of calcium doses between 200 and 800 mg on absorption of 5 mg heme iron [as concentrated RBC (CRBC)]. Calcium was administered as calcium chloride in all studies and minerals were ingested on an empty stomach. Calcium doses ≥1000 mg diminished nonheme iron absorption by an average of 49.6%. A calcium dose of 800 mg diminished absorption of 5 mg heme iron by 37.7%. In conclusion, we demonstrated an isolated effect of calcium (as chloride) on absorption of 5 mg of iron provided as nonheme (as sulfate) and heme (as CRBC) iron. This effect was observed at doses higher than previously reported from single-meal studies, starting at ~800 mg of calcium.

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