Radioautographic studies provide evidence to support a concept of the mechanism whereby the small intestine controls absorption of iron. Three different states of the body’s iron stores have been considered in this regard: iron excess, iron deficiency and normal iron repletion. As the columnar epithelial cells of the duodenal villi are formed they incorporate a portion of intrinsic iron from the body’s iron store, the amount depending upon the body’s requirement for new iron. It is predicated that with iron excess the iron-receptor mechanism in these cells is saturated with intrinsic iron; this then prevents the cell from accepting dietary iron. In the normal state of iron repletion the receptor mechanism remains partly unsaturated, allowing small amounts of dietary iron to enter the cell. Part of this proceeds into the body to satisfy any metabolic requirement for iron. Part is retained in the mucosal epithelial cells to complete the saturation of the iron-receptor mechanism. This bound iron is subsequently lost when the epithelial cells are sloughed at the end of their life cycle. In iron deficiency it is postulated that the receptor system is inactive or diminished so that entry of dietary iron into the body is relatively uninhibited.

This content is only available as a PDF.