Calcium and iron absorption - Mechanisms and public health relevance

Bo Lönnerdal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Scopus citations


Studies on human subjects have shown that calcium (Ca) can inhibit iron (Fe) absorption, regardless of whether it is given as Ca salts or in dairy products. This has caused concern as increased Ca intake commonly is recommended for children and women, the same populations that are at risk of Fe deficiency. However, a thorough review of studies on humans in which Ca intake was substantially increased for long periods shows no changes in hematological measures or indicators of iron status. Thus, the inhibitory effect may be of short duration and there also may be compensatory mechanisms. The interaction between Ca and Fe may be a lumenal event, affecting Fe uptake through DMT1 (divalent metal transporter 1) at the apical membrane. However, it is also possible that inhibition occurs during Fe transfer into circulation, suggesting roles for the serosal exporter ferroportin (FPN) and hephaestin. We explored these possibilities in human intestinal Caco-2 cells cultured in monolayers. Iron transport (59 Fe) and expression of DMT1, FPN, and hephaestin were assessed after 1.5 and 4 hours with 0 or 100 μM CaCl 2. Although Ca did not affect Fe uptake or DMT1 expression at 1.5 hours, FPN abundance at the basolateral membrane decreased, resulting in increased cellular Fe retention and decreased Fe efflux. After 4 hours, DMT1 and FPN expression increased and there was increased FPN at the membrane, suggesting a rebound effect. Thus, the effect of Ca on Fe absorption may be of short duration and adaptation may occur with time. This may explain why studies on long-term Ca supplementation of different groups fail to show any adverse effects on Fe status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-299
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 2010


  • Caco-2 cells
  • Calcium
  • Dairy products
  • Iron absorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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