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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Aug;106(2):667-674. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.152785. Epub 2017 Jun 14.

Randomized controlled trial assessing the efficacy of a reusable fish-shaped iron ingot to increase hemoglobin concentration in anemic, rural Cambodian women.

Author information

Food, Nutrition and Health, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Department of Applied Human Nutrition, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
College of Social and Applied Human Sciences and.
Nutrifood Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; and.
Biomedical Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Food, Nutrition and Health, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada;
Healthy Mothers, Babies, and Children Theme, South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute, South Australia, Australia.


Background: Anemia affects 45% of women of childbearing age in Cambodia. Iron supplementation is recommended in populations in which anemia prevalence is high. However, there are issues of cost, distribution, and adherence. A potential alternative is a reusable fish-shaped iron ingot, which, when added to the cooking pot, leaches iron into the fluid in which it is prepared.Objective: We sought to determine whether there was a difference in hemoglobin concentrations in rural Cambodian anemic women (aged 18-49 y) who cooked with the iron ingot or consumed a daily iron supplement compared with a control after 1 y.Design: In Preah Vihear, 340 women with mild or moderate anemia were randomly assigned to 1) an iron-ingot group, 2) an iron-supplement (18 mg/d) group, or 3) a nonplacebo control group. A venous blood sample was taken at baseline and at 6 and 12 mo. Blood was analyzed for hemoglobin, serum ferritin, and serum transferrin receptor. Hemoglobin electrophoresis was used to detect structural hemoglobin variants.Results: Anemia prevalence was 44% with the use of a portable hemoglobinometer during screening. At baseline, prevalence of iron deficiency was 9% on the basis of a low serum ferritin concentration. There was no significant difference in mean hemoglobin concentrations between the iron-ingot group (115 g/L; 95% CI: 113, 118 g/L; P = 0.850) or iron-supplement group (115 g/L; 95% CI: 113, 117 g/L; P = 0.998) compared with the control group (115 g/L; 95% CI: 113, 117 g/L) at 12 mo. Serum ferritin was significantly higher in the iron-supplement group (73 μg/L; 95% CI: 64, 82 μg/L; P = 0.002) than in the control group at 6 mo; however, this significance was not maintained at 12 mo (73 μg/L; 95% CI: 58, 91 μg/L; P = 0.176).Conclusions: Neither the iron ingot nor iron supplements increased hemoglobin concentrations in this population at 6 or 12 mo. We do not recommend the use of the fish-shaped iron ingot in Cambodia or in countries where the prevalence of iron deficiency is low and genetic hemoglobin disorders are high. This trial was registered at as NCT02341586.


Cambodia; Lucky Iron Fish; anemia; hemoglobin; inflammation; iron deficiency; iron ingot; randomized controlled trial; serum ferritin; women of reproductive age

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