By Wouter Haazen, Product Manager, Frutarom Health
Fortification of food with iron and the use of iron supplements are important methods to address the deficiency of this dietary element, which is still widespread. The main population groups at risk of iron deficiency are pregnant women and young children: worldwide, iron deficiency reaches up to 50% in these populations. However, men, women and older children can also be affected [1-2] – in the US alone it is estimated that at least 18 million people have a mild to severe iron deficiency. Furthermore, people with certain dietary needs often find it difficult to achieve the recommended daily intake from food alone, and they too can benefit from supplementation. For example, vegans and vegetarians need to ensure their diets contain adequate amounts of bioavailable iron as they do not consume meat, the major source of this essential mineral. Sufficient iron intake is also important for athletes.
Iron plays a key role in the human metabolism as a component in heme proteins, including those that regulate adequate oxygen supply throughout the body such as hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is also involved in many biological functions through enzyme activity, as well as the optimal functioning and development of the central nervous system. The effects on physical work capacity, as well as cognitive and psychomotor development, are significant.[4-5] Therefore additional levels of iron are critical during pregnancy, the perinatal period and the first years of infancy. Because of its importance in numerous physiological functions, adequate intake is also vital in the later stages of life. The scientific consensus on the importance of iron has led to the recognition of seven health claims in Europe, including contribution to the energy metabolism, cognition and the immune system.
The main dietary intake of bioavailable iron is in the form of heme iron which is present in meat, poultry and fish. The uptake of other forms is influenced by factors such as the presence of vitamin C (which enhances absorption), as well as polyphenols and phytates (which limit uptake). As these dietary components are often present in the same meal, they have a significant effect on the bioavailability of iron.
Although iron deficiency can be addressed through food fortification or the use of supplements, several factors have to be taken into account when adopting these strategies. As well as considerations such as optimum amount and bioavailability, iron’s unique characteristics mean adding it to the diet creates several challenges. Its metallic taste and strong oxidative properties are both very undesirable aspects in foods and it can react with other food constituents like vitamins and fatty acids. Furthermore, when used in food supplements, high concentrations often lead to gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, constipation or diarrhea, and potentially also to darkening of the teeth. [7-8] Most iron forms commonly available on the market do not tackle all of these issues.
Finding the most suitable way to supplement iron is therefore a real technological challenge.
Insoluble, inorganic iron salts are highly stable, leave no taste and have no oxidative properties. However, they also have low bioavailability. Soluble iron salts are absorbed more easily but have negative taste characteristics and greater oxidation potential and can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. These problems increase the likelihood of fortified products or food supplements with high dosages of iron being rejected. 
The micro-encapsulated iron AB-Fortis presents a solution. In this unique technology, the iron is protected and kept stable by a natural, organic layer which avoids the release of free iron. As a result there is no metallic taste, oxidation or negative gastrointestinal side effects. Key considerations for micro-encapsulated iron include mineral concentration, shelf stability, and behavior in different food matrices and during processing, dosage and bioavailability. AB-Fortis is a highly -stable ingredient, sustaining high processing temperatures and pressures while preventing the release of free iron. Its stability, absence of metallic taste and low reactivity make it suitable for the fortification of different foods, such as dairy products, confectionery, vegetarian meat substitutes, bakery products and cereals. It does not change the appearance or the taste of these fortified foods and the high content of iron in the microcapsule (40%) allows the use of very small dosages. In food supplements, it can be combined with other ingredients which are sensitive to oxidation, such as DHA and certain vitamins, ensuring the stability of all components.
Bioavailability is a key factor as well. AB-Fortis microcapsules are produced by gelation of alginate with calcium, entrapping the iron salt inside. Calcium displays a strong interaction with alginate, stabilizing the microcapsules and avoiding the untimely release of iron. When this calcium-alginate interaction is destabilized in the intestines (basic pH, bile salts), the iron is released from the microcapsule and can be efficiently absorbed. A human clinical study has shown similar oral absorption of this micro-encapsulated ferric saccharate in comparison with ferrous sulfate, which is currently the standard bioavailable iron form but has known side effects. This two-way randomized cross-over double-blind postprandial intervention showed comparable serum iron concentrations and transferrin saturations for equal doses supplied in milk. This indicates that AB-Fortis and ferrous sulfate are absorbed in similar amounts.
To summarize, AB-Fortis is a unique form of micro-encapsulated iron which is compatible with a range of food technologies and can play a significant role in tackling one of the world’s major mineral deficiencies.
 Allen L, et al. "Guidelines on food fortification with micronutrients." 2006 World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
 Benoist B. de, et al. "Worldwide prevalence of anaemia 1993-2005, WHO Global Database on Anaemia." 2008 World Health Organization
 Chi Huu Hong Le."The Prevalence of Anemia and Moderate-Severe Anemia in the US Population (NHANES 2003-2012)". 2016. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166635
 H. Sachdev, et al., Effect of iron supplementation on mental and motor development in children: systematic review of randomised controlled trials, Public Health Nutr 2005, 8, 117-132
 L. E. Murray-Kolb, et al., Iron treatment normalizes cognitive functioning in young women, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007, 85, 778-787.=
 European Union: COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) No 432/2012 of 16 May 2012 - establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health
 S. Hyder, et al., Do side-effects reduce compliance to iron supplementation? A study of daily-and weekly-dose regimens in pregnancy, 2002.
 J. O. Mora, Iron supplementation: overcoming technical and practical barriers, J Nutr 2002, 132, 853S-855S.
 M. G. Mannar, Successful food-based programmes, supplementation and fortification, J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006, 43 Suppl 3, S47-53.
 C. Contreras, et al., Comparative study of the oral absorption of microencapsulated ferric saccharate and ferrous sulfate in humans, European Journal of Nutrition 2013, 1-8.