LETTER:The mysteries of iron absorption

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The Independent Online
From Professor Robert R. Crichton and Dr Roberta J. Ward

Sir: As scientists working on basic aspects of iron metabolism, we read with incredulity your article "Doctor sniffs out remedy for anaemia in an Indian cooking pot" (26 May) concerning a government-funded scientist's discovery that balti currys cooked in cast-iron pots have a high iron content and could be a potential remedy for iron-deficiency anaemia.

Enhanced iron uptake from iron cooking utensils has been shown to occur in South African Bantu populations by Tom Bothwell and his colleagues many years ago, and it has been recently suggested that such tissue iron overloading observed may have a genetic origin.

Furthermore, Dr Susan Fairweather-Tait's statement that the human body is "efficient in getting rid of excess iron" is incorrect: the classic studies of McCance and Widdowson in the late 1930s showed that the major problem in iron metabolism in man is the lack of a basic mechanism for iron excretion.

At a time when it is extremely difficult to obtain any funding for basic scientific research in the important area of iron metabolism (one-third of the world population suffers from anaemia, while the incidence of the gene for iron loading in the Caucasian population is higher than cystic fibrosis), the suggestion that a survey to find out the iron status of women living in Birmingham "would be very interesting" if funding was available is preposterous. Such scientific theories will not enhance our knowledge as to the mechanism of iron absorption in humans, a process as yet totally undefined.

Yours faithfully,

ROBERT R. CRICHTON

ROBERTA J. WARD

Universite Catholique de

Louvain

Belgium

28 May

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