Estimation of dietary iron bioavailability from food iron intake and iron status

Jack R. Dainty, Rachel Berry, Sean R. Lynch, Linda J. Harvey, Susan J. Fairweather-Tait

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Currently there are no satisfactory methods for estimating dietary iron absorption (bioavailability) at a population level, but this is essential for deriving dietary reference values using the factorial approach. The aim of this work was to develop a novel approach for estimating dietary iron absorption using a population sample from a sub-section of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS). Data were analyzed in 873 subjects from the 2000–2001 adult cohort of the NDNS, for whom both dietary intake data and hematological measures (hemoglobin and serum ferritin (SF) concentrations) were available. There were 495 men aged 19–64 y (mean age 42.7±12.1 y) and 378 pre-menopausal women (mean age 35.7±8.2 y). Individual dietary iron requirements were estimated using the Institute of Medicine calculations. A full probability approach was then applied to estimate the prevalence of dietary intakes that were insufficient to meet the needs of the men and women separately, based on their estimated daily iron intake and a series of absorption values ranging from 1–40%. The prevalence of SF concentrations below selected cut-off values (indicating that absorption was not high enough to maintain iron stores) was derived from individual SF concentrations. An estimate of dietary iron absorption required to maintain specified SF values was then calculated by matching the observed prevalence of insufficiency with the prevalence predicted for the series of absorption estimates. Mean daily dietary iron intakes were 13.5 mg for men and 9.8 mg for women. Mean calculated dietary absorption was 8% in men (50th percentile for SF 85 µg/L) and 17% in women (50th percentile for SF 38 µg/L). At a ferritin level of 45 µg/L estimated absorption was similar in men (14%) and women (13%). This new method can be used to calculate dietary iron absorption at a population level using data describing total iron intake and SF concentration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere111824
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2014


  • iron bioavailability
  • iron intake
  • iron status
  • dietary reference values

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