The effect of alcohol consumption on the prevalence of iron overload, iron deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia

Gastroenterology. 2004 May;126(5):1293-301. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2004.01.020.


Background & aims: Our aim was to investigate the relationship between alcohol consumption and iron overload, iron deficiency, or iron deficiency anemia in the U.S. population.

Methods: Adult participants of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who did not consume alcohol (n = 8839) were compared with participants who consumed < or =1 (n = 4976), >1 to < or =2 (n = 1153), or >2 (n = 915) alcoholic drinks/day during the preceding 12 months. We examined the following markers of iron overload: elevated serum transferrin-iron saturation (TS) level (>45%, >50%, and >60%), elevated serum ferritin level (>300, >400, >500, and >600 ng/mL), and combinations of both elevated serum TS and ferritin levels. Iron deficiency was defined as the presence of at least 2 of the following: serum ferritin level <12 ng/mL, serum TS level <15%, and erythrocyte protoporphyrin level >1.24 micromol/L. Iron deficiency anemia was defined as the presence of both iron deficiency and anemia.

Results: Compared with nondrinkers, the prevalence of all markers of iron overload was significantly elevated among those who consumed >2 alcoholic drinks/day after adjusting for potential confounders. Consumption of any amount of alcohol was associated with a 40% reduction in the risk of iron deficiency anemia.

Conclusions: Consumption of up to 2 alcoholic drinks/day seems to be associated with reduced risk of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia without a concomitant increase in the risk of iron overload. Consumption of >2 alcoholic drinks/day is associated with a significant elevation in the risk of iron overload.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / blood
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / etiology*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Deficiency Diseases / blood
  • Deficiency Diseases / epidemiology
  • Deficiency Diseases / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Iron Overload / blood
  • Iron Overload / epidemiology*
  • Iron Overload / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Biomarkers