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A clinical trial, led by Associate Professor Sohail Mushtaq from the Department of Clinical Sciences and Nutrition, was carried out to investigate whether dietary supplementation with 1,500 international units (IU) of vitamin D, consumed with an iron-fortified breakfast cereal for eight weeks, affected blood iron status in iron-deficient participants. (National dietary surveys show that between 25% and 40% of women of child bearing age have lower than the recommended intake of iron in their food.)

This large-scale clinical trial was administered by Dr Salma Ahmad Fuzi, who was part of the University’s Micronutrient Metabolism Research Group. Following a local media call-out, a total of 200 women from the Cheshire area were screened for iron deficiency, of which 50 were eligible to participate in the study. Twenty-five participants were randomly allocated to consume vitamin D in capsule form and 25 participants were assigned a placebo capsule. Both groups were asked to consume the same iron-fortified breakfast cereal with either vitamin D3 or a placebo, daily for eight weeks.

Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the eight-week trial to investigate potential changes in blood markers of iron status such as: haemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen in humans; haematocrit, which indicates how much of your blood is made up of red blood cells; and ferritin, which is the storage form of iron in the human body. Changes in blood levels of vitamin D were also monitored.

Results showed that haemoglobin concentration and haematocrit levels significantly increased in the vitamin D group over the course of the trial but not in the placebo group. This demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation was effective in improving iron status in women with low iron stores. In addition, vitamin D status was significantly improved in the supplemented group, as expected.

The results of this study were published recently in the British Journal of Nutrition which is one of the highest-ranking nutrition journals worldwide.

Dr Sohail Mushtaq said: “These findings are particularly important, as large sections of the population are vitamin D deficient following the winter period and supplementation is recommended. Although further long-term studies are required to investigate the potential mechanisms involved, these findings are significant as they suggest that improving the body’s vitamin D status could potentially be used as an additional therapy for iron-deficient or anaemic people who need to improve their iron levels.”

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