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Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):325-31. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.035717. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

Inulin modifies the bifidobacteria population, fecal lactate concentration, and fecal pH but does not influence iron absorption in women with low iron status.

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Laboratory of Human Nutrition, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.



Bioavailability of nonheme iron is influenced by the concentration of inhibitors and enhancers in the diet. The fructans inulin and oligofructose have been shown to improve iron absorption in animals through colonic uptake, but this has not been confirmed in humans.


The aim of the intervention study was to evaluate the influence of inulin on iron absorption, bifidobacteria, total bacteria, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and fecal pH in women with low iron status (plasma ferritin <25 μg/L).


The subjects (n = 32) consumed inulin or placebo 3 times/d (∼20 g/d) for 4 wk, separated by a 2-wk washout period. Iron absorption was measured after 3 wk of inulin and placebo consumption from a standard test meal by using stable-iron-isotope techniques. Fecal bacteria were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and fecal acids by HPLC.


Mean fractional iron absorption in the inulin (15.2%; 95% CI: 8.0%, 28.9%) and placebo (13.3%; 95% CI: 8.1%, 24.3%) periods did not differ significantly (P = 0.10). Inulin decreased fecal pH (P < 0.001) and increased fecal bifidobacteria (P < 0.001) and fecal lactate (P < 0.001) but had no effect on fecal SCFAs and total bacteria. Changes in lactate and acetate concentrations were positively correlated with changes in propionate (P < 0.001) and butyrate (P < 0.02) concentrations, respectively. Iron absorption correlated with fecal pH in the placebo period (P < 0.01) but not in the inulin period (P = 0.37).


Although inulin showed prebiotic activity, we were unable to show an increase in iron absorption in women with low iron status. This trial was registered at as NCT0148309.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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