Targeting Malnutrition: Isotopic Tools for Evaluating Nutrition Worldwide
Iron Deficiency Anaemia: Finding Effective Interventions

Why is IAEA evaluating iron absorption from local foods in developing countries?

Causes of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency results from blood loss (eg. parasitism, menstruation) or from insufficient dietary intake or absorption. Some of the best sources of iron are not affordable to the poor. However, iron from the more affordable plant based diets tends to be poorly utilized by the body.

Improving iron status

Strategies for eliminating iron deficiency (depending on its source and severity) include:

The flow chart depicts isotopic evaluations of iron bioavailability (absorption of iron from typical diets and fortified foods, and the influence of absorption enhancers/inhibitors) and iron status. It illustrates the important factors in deciding which intervention is most likely to alleviate iron deficiency.

Measuring iron absorption: conventional indicators and isotope techniques

The conventional indicator of mineral absorption is the chemical balance technique which measures the difference between the amount of a mineral eaten and the amount in the faeces. This method is insensitive, imprecise and time and labour consuming.

Determining Iron Bioavailability in the Laboratory

  • An alternative is to subject the food-stuff to laboratory conditions that mimic the human stomach. This measures the percentage of iron that is potentially available.

  • This method is the only rapid screening tool available for comparing iron bioavalability from different foods and diets.

  • It can be used to investigate different promoters and inhibitors and the effect of food processing methods on iron bioavailability.

IAEA collaborates to reduce iron deficiency

Isotopic techniques have opened the door to understanding iron absorption. The next challenge is to improve intervention programmes in relation to local foods, eating habits and hygienic conditions in developing countries.

Since the early 1990s, the IAEA has worked with donor partners, government laboratories and participating communities in improving knowledge about iron bioavailability in local meals and foodstuffs consumed in 10 Member States: Chile, Ecuador, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sri Lanka, Venezuela. This information is of vital importance for:

Already as a result, the Government of Venezuela began a national iron fortification programme by enriching precooked maize flour and wheat flour.

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