Iron and inflammatory bowel disease

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2001 Apr;15(4):429-38. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.2001.00930.x.


Both anaemia of iron deficiency and anaemia of chronic disease are frequently encountered in inflammatory bowel disease. Anaemia of iron deficiency is mostly due to inadequate intake or loss of iron. Anaemia of chronic disease probably results from decreased erythropoiesis, secondary to increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen metabolites and nitric oxide. Assessment of the iron status in a condition associated with inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease, is difficult. The combination of serum transferrin receptor with ferritin concentrations, however, allows a reliable assessment of the iron deficit. The best treatment for anaemia of chronic disease is the cure of the underlying disease. Erythropoietin reportedly may increase haemoglobin levels in some of these patients. The anaemia of iron deficiency is usually treated with oral iron supplements. Iron supplementation may lead to an increased inflammatory activity through the generation of reactive oxygen species. To date, data from studies in animal models of inflammatory bowel disease support the theoretical disadvantage of iron supplementation in this respect. The results, however, cannot easily be extrapolated to the human situation, because the amount of supplemented iron in these experiments was much higher than the dose used in patients with iron deficiency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / etiology*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Erythropoietin / therapeutic use
  • Ferritins / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications*
  • Iron / therapeutic use*
  • Receptors, Transferrin / physiology


  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Erythropoietin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron