Iron status and reproduction in US women: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 6;9(11):e112216. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112216. eCollection 2014.


Women experience significant changes in iron status throughout their reproductive lifespans. While this is evident in regions with high rates of malnutrition and infectious disease, the extent of reproductive-related changes is less well known in countries with low rates of iron deficiency anemia, such as the United States. The goal of this study is determine the relationship between women's reproductive variables (pregnancy, parity, currently breastfeeding, regular menstruation, hormonal contraceptive use, and age at menarche) and iron status (hemoglobin, ferritin, transferrin receptor, and % transferrin saturation) using an anthropological framework for interpreting the results. Data from women aged 18-49 were taken from the 1999-2006 US NHANES, a nationally representative cross-sectional sample of US women. Using multiple imputation and complex survey statistics, women's reproductive variables were regressed against indicators of iron status. Pregnant women had significantly poorer iron status, by most indicators, than non-pregnant women. All biomarkers demonstrated significantly lower iron levels with increasing parity. Women who were having regular periods had iron indicators that suggested decreased iron levels, while women who used hormonal contraceptives had iron indicators that suggested increased iron levels. Despite relatively good iron status and widespread availability of iron-rich foods in the US, women still exhibit patterns of iron depletion across several reproductive variables of interest. These results contribute to an ecological approach to iron status that seeks to understand variation in iron status, with the hopes that appropriate, population-specific recommendations can be developed to improve women's health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood*
  • Iron Deficiencies
  • Menstruation / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Parity
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptors, Transferrin / blood
  • Reproductive History*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Hemoglobins
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron

Grants and funding

This author has no support or funding to report.