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Phytase Aids Iron Absorption in Anemic Pigs

By Linda McElreath
July 20, 2001

Adding a key enzyme to an anemic piglet’s diet helps the animal absorb iron and phosphorus and replace missing hemoglobin, according to Agricultural Research Service and cooperating scientists.

ARS animal physiologist William A. House at the U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., teamed with Cornell University scientists to study the efficiency of an enzyme called phytase in releasing phytate-bound iron and phosphorus in soybean meal fed to young anemic pigs.

Phytate, a component of seeds and grains, is an antinutrient that can bind to iron and disrupt the body’s ability to absorb iron. In the study, the enzyme degraded the phytate in the diet so the piglets absorbed and used more iron for making hemoglobin.

The research is part of the team’s effort to develop novel phytases to improve mineral nutrition of animals and reduce environmental pollution.

In experiments with 32 anemic piglets, the team found that animals fed dietary phytase had increased concentrations of hemoglobin, compared to those given feed without the enzyme. Also, hemoglobin concentrations in the phytase-supplemented pigs were similar to those in pigs fed supplemental iron.

Hemoglobin, the main component of red blood cells, is a vital protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. Iron, an essential component of hemoglobin, is derived from food and by recycling iron from old red blood cells. One cause of iron deficiency is poor absorption of iron by the body.

Understanding the factors that improve and promote iron absorption should lead to better use of dietary iron.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.