Haematinic deficiency and macrocytosis in middle-aged and older adults

PLoS One. 2013 Nov 7;8(11):e77743. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077743. eCollection 2013.


Objective: To assess the prevalence and determinants of haematinic deficiency (lack of B12 folate or iron) and macrocytosis in blood from a national population-based study of middle-aged and older adults.

Methods: A cross-sectional study involving 1,207 adults aged ≥45 years, recruited from a sub-study of the Irish National Survey of Lifestyle Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN 2007). Participants completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire and a standard food frequency questionnaire. Non-fasting blood samples were obtained for measurement of full blood count and expert morphological assessment, serum ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor assay (sTfR), B12, folate and coeliac antibodies. Blood samples were also assayed for thyroid function (T4, TSH), liver function, aminotransferase (AST) and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT).

Results: The overall prevalence (95% C.I.) of anaemia (Hb <13.5 g/dl men and 11.3 g/dl women) was 4.6% (2.9%-6.4%) in men and 1.0% (0.2%-1.9%) in women. Iron deficiency (ferritin <17 ng/ml men and <11 ng/ml in women) was detected in 6.3% of participants (3.7% in males and 8.7% in females, p<0.001). Based on both low ferritin and raised sTfR (>21 nmol/ml) only 2.3% were iron-deficient. 3.0% and 2.7% were found to have low levels of serum folate (<2.3 ng/ml) and serum B12 (<120 ng/l) respectively. Clinically significant macrocytosis (MCV>99fl) was detected in 8.4% of subjects. Strong, significant and independent associations with macrocytosis were observed for lower social status, current smoking status, moderate to heavy alcohol intake, elevated GGT levels, deficiency of folate and vitamin B12, hypothyroidism and coeliac disease. The population attributable fraction (PAF) for macrocytosis associated with elevated GGT (25.0%) and smoking (24.6%) was higher than for excess alcohol intake (6.3%), folate deficiency (10.5%) or vitamin B12 (3.4%).

Conclusions: Haematinic deficiency and macrocytosis are common in middle-aged/older adults in Ireland. Macrocytosis is more likely to be attributable to an elevated GGT and smoking than vitamin B12 or folate deficiency.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Celiac Disease / blood
  • Celiac Disease / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / blood
  • Folic Acid Deficiency* / blood
  • Folic Acid Deficiency* / epidemiology
  • Hematologic Diseases* / blood
  • Hematologic Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / blood
  • Hypothyroidism / epidemiology
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Transferrin / blood
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / blood
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Transaminases / blood
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / blood
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / epidemiology
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood


  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Thyrotropin
  • Folic Acid
  • Iron
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase
  • Transaminases
  • Vitamin B 12

Grant support

This work was supported by the Irish Health Research Board under the aegis of the HRB Centre for Health & Diet Research: Grant Reference HRC (http://www.hrb.ie/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.