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Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Apr;67(4):722-33.

Dietary determinants of iron stores in a free-living elderly population: The Framingham Heart Study.

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Division of Biostatistics, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


Epidemiologic studies have found a relation between body iron stores and risk of chronic disease. Iron-absorption studies from single meals have shown that many dietary factors can influence nonheme-iron bioavailability. However, little is known about the association of these dietary factors with iron stores in free-living elderly populations. To address this question, we investigated the consumption of various dietary components and iron stores in an elderly sample of The Framingham Heart Study participants. Serum ferritin was used as a measure of body iron stores in 634 free-living elderly (67-93 y of age), and dietary intake during the previous year was assessed by a food-frequency questionnaire. The relation between serum ferritin and various dietary factors was assessed by multiple regression analysis. Subjects whose ferritin concentrations might be pathologically elevated because of infection, inflammation, liver disease, or genetic hemochromatosis were excluded from the analysis. After we controlled for sex, age, body mass index, total energy intake, smoking, and use of aspirin and other medications known to affect blood loss, we found five significant dietary factors associated with iron stores. Heme iron, supplemental iron, dietary vitamin C, and alcohol were positively associated with serum ferritin, whereas coffee intake had a negative association. As expected, sex was a strong predictor of serum ferritin-women having significantly lower mean concentrations than men. However, age was not related to serum ferritin in our elderly population. Our results suggest that in typical Western-style diets, a small number of dietary factors probably modulate the bioavailability of dietary iron and influence the accumulation of iron stores.

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