Nutritional anemias and the elderly

Semin Hematol. 2008 Oct;45(4):225-34. doi: 10.1053/j.seminhematol.2008.07.009.


Nutritional anemias are important because they are easily reversed and because their underlying causes, most often unrelated to dietary intake, require individualized assessment. Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) usually results from iron losses accompanying chronic bleeding, including loss to intestinal parasites, or from gastric disorders or malabsorption in the elderly. Cobalamin-deficiency anemia, the only nutritional anemia with predilection for the elderly, nearly always stems from failure of intrinsic factor (IF)-related absorption. Folate-deficiency anemia, the only nutritional anemia usually caused by poor intake, has nearly disappeared in countries that fortify food with folic acid. Copper-deficiency anemia, which usually results from malabsorptive disorders or from medical or nutritional interventions that provide inadequate copper or excess zinc, is uncommon but increasingly recognized. The prevalences of nutritional anemias, which are not always distinguished from non-anemic deficiency, are uncertain. The mean corpuscular volume (MCV) provides an essential diagnostic tool leading to judicious matching of relevant biochemical changes with relevant anemia. Nutritional anemias usually feature abnormal MCV, whereas the predominant anemias in the aged, especially the anemias of chronic disease/chronic inflammation (ACD/ACI), of renal failure, and of unknown causes, are typically normocytic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anemia / diagnosis
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Anemia / etiology*
  • Anemia / physiopathology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / etiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Erythrocytes / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron, Dietary / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 12 / physiology
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency


  • Iron, Dietary
  • Vitamin B 12