Iron Supplements Modulate Colon Microbiota Composition and Potentiate the Protective Effects of Probiotics in Dextran Sodium Sulfate-induced Colitis

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2017 May;23(5):753-766. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000001089.


Background: Iron is an important nutrient for both the host and colonizing bacteria. Oral iron supplementation may impact the composition of the microbiota and can be particularly damaging to patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, patients with IBD may require iron supplementation to treat their anemia.

Methods: We fed mice with diets supplemented with ferrous sulfate at different doses (5, 50, and 500 mg of iron/kg chow) and with different iron formulations (ferrous sulfate, ferrous bisglycinate and ferric ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid [FEDTA]), and analyzed the effects on the composition of the gut microbiota by 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Using the dextran sodium sulfate (DSS)-induced colitis mouse model, we investigated the effects of iron supplementation in colitis severity, as well as the use of the probiotic Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 (EcN) in combination with iron supplementation.

Results: Iron supplementation at different doses induced shifts in the gut microbial communities and inferred metabolic pathways. However, depending on the iron formulation used in the diets, iron supplementation during dextran sodium sulfate-induced colitis was either beneficial (ferrous bisglycinate) or highly detrimental (FEDTA). Finally, the beneficial effect of the probiotic EcN in the dextran sodium sulfate-induced colitis model was potentiated by oral iron supplementation with ferrous sulfate.

Conclusions: These results show that the iron formulations used to treat iron deficiency influence the gut microbiota and colitis in mice and suggest that distinct iron compounds may be of particular relevance to patients with IBD. In addition, the beneficial action of probiotics in IBD may be enhanced by oral iron supplementation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colitis / diet therapy*
  • Colitis / etiology
  • Dextran Sulfate / toxicity*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Iron / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microbiota*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Protective Factors


  • Dextran Sulfate
  • Iron