Iron absorption in the thalassemia syndromes and its inhibition by tea

N Engl J Med. 1979 Jan 4;300(1):5-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM197901043000102.


To determine the hemoglobin concentration at which iron absorption is minimal, five subjects with thalassemia major and one with thalassemia intermedia underwent a series of iron-absorption studies. The effect of tea as an inhibitor of non-heme iron absorption was also tested. Iron absorption increased as the hemoglobin concentration decreased, although iron absorption was much higher at any given hemoglobin level in the subject with thalassemia intermedia. In the subjects with thalassemia major, iron absorption averaged 10 per cent at hemoglobin concentrations between 9 and 10 and 2.7 per cent between 11 and 13 g per deciliter. The percentage of iron absorbed could be accurately predicted from the nucleated red-cell count (r = 0.91, P less than 0.001). Tea produced a 41 to 95 per cent inhibition of iron absorption. Since patients with thalassemia intermedia may absorb a large percentage of dietary iron, inhibitors of iron absorption, such as tea, may be useful in their management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Depression, Chemical
  • Erythrocyte Count
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Tea*
  • Thalassemia / blood
  • Thalassemia / diet therapy
  • Thalassemia / metabolism*


  • Hemoglobins
  • Tea
  • Iron