News Release

Participants sought for study to help correct iron deficiency among women

Pennington Biomedical researcher Dr. Stephen Hennigar is studying dietary strategies to improve iron status in iron deficient women

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Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Dr. Stephen Hennigar

image: Dr. Stephen Hennigar, Assistant Professor in Clinical Science at Pennington Biomedical view more 

Credit: Eddy Perez/LSU

BATON ROUGE – The presence of iron in blood is crucial for the transport of oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, iron deficiency, or the more severe form, iron deficiency anemia develops, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, and pale skin. More than 1-in-5 premenopausal women in the United States are iron deficient. A study now underway at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and led by Dr. Stephen Hennigar, is exploring dietary strategies to improve iron status in this population.

Dr. Hennigar, Assistant Professor in Clinical Science at Pennington Biomedical, specializes in the study of iron and the critical role it plays in the body. In this study, Hennigar will explore whether different diets can improve the amount of iron we absorb from supplements.

“Findings from this study may lead to dietary recommendations to improve iron status in vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Hennigar. “There is no regulated way for the human body to get rid of excess iron once it’s absorbed from the diet, so we have evolved ways to limit the amount of iron we absorb to avoid toxicity,” said Dr. Hennigar. “Because of this, iron absorption is typically very low. Less than 20 percent of the iron we consume in the diet is absorbed, which is why it’s so difficult to deliver iron to those who need it.”

Premenopausal women are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency due to unique factors associated with their reproductive biology. Women who are still having their menstrual cycles lose iron each month during menstruation.

“This is unregulated iron loss, which is difficult to make up for with diet alone,” explained Hennigar.

For his study, Dr. Hennigar is recruiting women between the ages of 18 and 40 who are not pregnant. Participants will be provided with and instructed to consume a lunch meal with an iron supplement each day for 2 months. The goal of this study is to determine which foods are best suited for the delivery and absorption of iron in the body. In addition to the provided meal, participants will be compensated for their time. Those interested in participating can see if they quality for the IRON study on the Current Research Trial page on the Pennington Biomedical website.

Dr. Hennigar joined the Pennington Biomedical research faculty in August 2022, along with his wife, Dr. Claire Berryman, who is a co-investigator on the study. He received his PhD from Penn State, where he studied zinc transport in the mammary glands. His postdoctoral research focused on micronutrient requirements for military personnel at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

“We are excited to have both Dr. Claire Berryman and Dr. Stephen Hennigar at Pennington Biomedical. They are up and comers in their fields,” said Dr. John Kirwan, Pennington Biomedical Executive Director. “Research has told us a lot about the importance of iron in the body, but there is still so much we don’t know. This study can provide valuable insight into how we can improve iron status in populations vulnerable to iron deficiency.”

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center architected the national “Obecity, USA” awareness and advocacy campaign to help solve the obesity epidemic by 2040. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is affiliated with LSU.

The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 480 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge.

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