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Methods to assess iron and iodine status

  • Michael B. Zimmermann (a1) (a2)

Four methods are recommended for assessment of iodine nutrition: urinary iodine concentration, the goitre rate, and blood concentrations of thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroglobulin. These indicators are complementary, in that urinary iodine is a sensitive indicator of recent iodine intake (days) and thyroglobulin shows an intermediate response (weeks to months), whereas changes in the goitre rate reflect long-term iodine nutrition (months to years). Spot urinary iodine concentrations are highly variable from day-to-day and should not be used to classify iodine status of individuals. International reference criteria for thyroid volume in children have recently been published and can be used for identifying even small goitres using thyroid ultrasound. Recent development of a dried blood spot thyroglobulin assay makes sample collection practical even in remote areas. Thyroid stimulating hormone is a useful indicator of iodine nutrition in the newborn, but not in other age groups. For assessing iron status, haemoglobin measurement alone has low specificity and sensitivity. Serum ferritin remains the best indicator of iron stores in the absence of inflammation. Measures of iron-deficient erythropoiesis include transferrin iron saturation and erythrocyte zinc protoporphyrin, but these often do not distinguish anaemia due to iron deficiency from the anaemia of chronic disease. The serum transferrin receptor is useful in this setting, but the assay requires standardization. In the absence of inflammation, a sensitive method to assess iron status is to combine the use of serum ferritin as a measure of iron stores and the serum transferrin receptor as a measure of tissue iron deficiency.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Michael B. Zimmermann, fax +41-44-632-1470, email
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British Journal of Nutrition
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  • EISSN: 1475-2662
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