Respiratory infections drive hepcidin-mediated blockade of iron absorption leading to iron deficiency anemia in African children.
Prentice AM., Bah A., Jallow MW., Jallow AT., Sanyang S., Sise EA., Ceesay K., Danso E., Armitage AE., Pasricha S-R., Drakesmith H., Wathuo M., Kessler N., Cerami C., Wegmüller R.
Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is the most prevalent nutritional condition worldwide. We studied the contribution of hepcidin-mediated iron blockade to IDA in African children. We measured hepcidin and hemoglobin weekly, and hematological, inflammatory, and iron biomarkers at baseline, 7 weeks, and 12 weeks in 407 anemic (hemoglobin < 11 g/dl), otherwise healthy Gambian children (6 to 27 months). Each child maintained remarkably constant hepcidin levels (P < 0.0001 for between-child variance), with half consistently maintaining levels that indicate physiological blockade of iron absorption. Hepcidin was strongly predicted by nurse-ascribed adverse events with dominant signals from respiratory infections and fevers (all P < 0.0001). Diarrhea and fecal calprotectin were not associated with hepcidin. In multivariate analysis, C-reactive protein was the dominant predictor of hepcidin and contributed to iron blockade even at very low levels. We conclude that even low-grade inflammation, especially associated with respiratory infections, contributes to IDA in African children.