European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 102, Issue 6, pp 703–709 | Cite as

Anemia and iron status in young fertile non-professional female athletes

  • Manuela Di Santolo
  • Giuliana Stel
  • Giuseppe Banfi
  • Fabio Gonano
  • Sabina CauciEmail author
Original Article


We evaluated the effects of regular physical exercise on anemia and iron status in young non-professional female athletes. A total of 191 healthy white Italian women (23.5 ± 4.68 years) were analyzed; 70 were non-professional athletes performing 11.1 ± 2.63 h week−1 exercise and 121 were sedentary controls. Blood markers of anemia and iron status—hemoglobin (Hb), hematocrit (Hct), red blood cells (RBC), serum ferritin, iron, transferrin (Tf), transferrin saturation (TfS), soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), and the sTfR/log ferritin ratio (sTfR-F index)—were evaluated. Anemia threshold was Hb < 120 g l–1. Ferritin concentrations < 12 μg l–1 were considered as iron deficiency (ID). Frequency of anemia (15.7 versus 10.7%, P = 0.32), ID (27.1 versus 29.8%, P = 0.70), and ID anemia (8.6 versus 5.8%, P = 0.46) was not different in athletes and controls. However, athletes were threefold more likely than controls (17.1 versus 5.8%) to have serum iron < 50 μg dl–1 [odds ratio (OR) 3.37, P = 0.012]. Low-TfS (<15%) was found in 25.7% of athletes and in 13.2% of controls, OR 2.27, P = 0.030. Elevated-sTfR (>1.76 mg l–1) was found in 24.3% of athletes and in 12.4% of controls, OR 2.27, P = 0.034. Regular non-professional sport activity does not cause an increased rate of anemia or of iron deficiency in fertile women. However, physical exercise has an impact on iron status as it reduces serum iron and transferrin saturation, and elevates sTfR. Nearly one fifth of recreational athletes have anemia and a third have iron deficit, these conditions can decrease their physical performance.


Iron deficiency Sport activity Ferritin Serum soluble transferrin receptor sTfR-F index Female recreational athletes 



Financial support was provided by the University of Udine, Udine, Italy; research grant years 2006–2007. We thank Prof. Franco Quadrifoglio, Department Biomedical Sciences and Technologies, University of Udine for a critical revision of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manuela Di Santolo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Giuliana Stel
    • 3
  • Giuseppe Banfi
    • 2
    • 4
  • Fabio Gonano
    • 3
  • Sabina Cauci
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Biomedical Sciences and Technologies, School of MedicineUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  2. 2.Study Group on Laboratory Medicine of SportsItalian Society of Clinical Biochemistry and Clinical Molecular Biology (SIBIOC)MilanItaly
  3. 3.Department of Experimental and Clinical Pathology and Medicine, School of MedicineUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  4. 4.IRCCS Galeazzi Institute, and School of MedicineUniversity of MilanMilanItaly

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