The effect of differences in dietary iron intake on 59Fe absorption and duodenal morphology in pregnant rats

Br J Nutr. 1989 Nov;62(3):707-17. doi: 10.1079/bjn19890071.


The effect of iron intake on 59Fe absorption throughout pregnancy, and on maternal and fetal Fe status towards the end of pregnancy, was investigated in rats. The influence of pregnancy and dietary Fe on duodenal morphology was also studied. Female rats were fed on a diet containing 17 or 100 mg Fe/kg for 2 weeks before and throughout pregnancy. 59Fe absorption was measured on days 1 or 2, 8 or 9 and 17 or 18 of pregnancy, and maternal and fetal Fe status was determined on days 18 or 19. Pregnancy resulted in a fall in haemoglobin (Hb) concentration. Compared with non-pregnant counterparts, total liver Fe was reduced in the low-Fe group, but not in the high-Fe group, indicating that the fall in Hb in the high-Fe rats was not associated with an Fe-deficient state. 59Fe absorption in rats fed on both diets increased throughout pregnancy, demonstrating that Fe supplementation of the diet, to a level that prevented the development of Fe-deficiency, failed to suppress an increase in absorption. Fetal weight appeared to be an important determinant of the efficiency of Fe absorption in late pregnancy. Poor maternal Fe status was accompanied by a reduction in fetal Fe concentration but results also suggested that fetuses were partly protected from maternal Fe-deficiency. Pregnancy resulted in increased duodenal circumference and villus dimensions, whilst high dietary Fe reduced duodenal growth in both pregnant and non-pregnant animals. The relevance of this finding is discussed. It was concluded that, in rats, pregnancy per se causes an enhancement in Fe absorption and that the degree of enhancement is in part related to fetal mass.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Duodenum / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Iron / administration & dosage*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Iron Radioisotopes
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Time Factors


  • Hemoglobins
  • Iron Radioisotopes
  • Iron