Iron Consumption Is Not Consistently Associated with Fecundability among North American and Danish Pregnancy Planners

J Nutr. 2019 Sep 1;149(9):1585-1595. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz094.


Background: Infertility is an important public health problem with few known modifiable risk factors. Dietary factors including folic acid have been associated with improved fertility, but the association between iron and fertility is understudied. One study among US nurses found a 40% lower risk of ovulatory infertility with higher intake of nonheme iron and iron supplements.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which iron intake from diet and supplements reported on structured questionnaires is associated with fecundability.

Methods: We conducted parallel analyses that used data from 2 prospective cohort studies of pregnancy planners from Denmark (Snart Foraeldre; n = 1693) and North America (PRESTO; n = 2969) during 2013-2018. Follow-up comprised menstrual cycles at risk until pregnancy or censoring for fertility treatment, stopped trying to conceive, withdrawal, loss to follow-up, or 12 cycles of attempt. We used proportional probabilities regression models to estimate fecundability ratios (FRs) and 95% CIs, adjusting for confounders.

Results: We found little association between dietary heme iron intake and fecundability in either cohort. The FR for nonheme iron intake (≥11 mg/d compared with <9 mg/day) was 1.11 for Snart Foraeldre participants (95% CI: 0.92, 1.34) and 1.01 for PRESTO participants (95% CI: 0.89, 1.14). The FR for iron-containing supplements was 1.01 in Snart Foraeldre (95% CI: 0.90, 1.13) and 1.19 in PRESTO (95% CI: 1.03, 1.38). In PRESTO, but not Snart Foraeldre, stronger positive associations were found for nonheme iron intake and iron supplement use among women with heavy menses or short menstrual cycles.

Conclusions: Overall, dietary intake of iron was not consistently associated with fecundability, although there was some evidence for a positive association among women with risk factors for iron deficiency. We also found a small positive association between supplemental iron intake and fecundability among North American, but not Danish, pregnancy planners.

Keywords: cohort study; dietary iron; epidemiology; fecundability; fertility; iron supplements; preconception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Iron / administration & dosage*
  • Iron / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies


  • Iron