Iron in ferritin or in salts (ferrous sulfate) is equally bioavailable in nonanemic women

Penni Davila-Hicks, Elizabeth C. Theil, Bo Lönnerdal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Background: Recent studies in humans suggest that ferritin iron in soybeans has high bioavailability. However, direct evidence for this is lacking because the soybeans were intrinsically labeled; thus, iron bound to other ligands, such as phytate, was also labeled. Objective: The objectives of the study were to evaluate the absorption of iron from extrinsically labeled, purified ferritin (horse spleen) reconstituted with either high-phosphate iron mineral (plant-type) or low-phosphate iron mineral (animal-type) and to compare it with iron absorption from ferrous sulfate. Design: Nonanemic, healthy young women were fed a standard breakfast meal supplemented with 59Fe-labeled ferritin or ferrous sulfate, in randomized order. Fifteen subjects received ferritin with the low-phosphate iron mineral, and 15 subjects received ferritin with the high-phosphate iron mineral. Iron absorption was measured in a whole-body counter after 14 and 28 d and by red blood cell incorporation after 28 d. Results: There was no significant difference in iron absorption between ferritin and ferrous sulfate: low-phosphate iron mineral ferritin (x- ± SD: 21.4 ± 14.7%) compared with ferrous sulfate (21.9 ± 14.6%), or high-phosphate iron mineral ferritin (22.2 ± 19.2%) compared with ferrous sulfate (16.7 ± 7.1%). Results obtained by using whole-body retention of iron and red blood cell incorporation differed with the type of iron, which suggests that pathways for iron uptake and utilization differed for the 2 forms. Conclusions: Iron is equally well absorbed from ferritin and ferrous sulfate independent of the phosphate content of the ferritin iron mineral. Thus, dietary ferritin iron is likely to be a good source of iron.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)936-940
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Ferritin
  • Ferritin iron
  • Iron
  • Iron absorption
  • Iron bioavailability
  • Iron mineral ferritin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science


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