To determine if elemental carbonyl iron powder is safe and effective therapy for iron deficiency anemia, 20 nonanemic and 32 anemic volunteers were studied.

Single doses of 1,000 to 10,000 mg of carbonyl iron (15 to 150 times the 65 mg of iron in the usual dose of ferrous sulfate) were tolerated by nonanemic volunteers with no evidence of toxicity and only minor gastrointestinal side effects.

Anemic volunteers (menstruating women who had previously donated blood) were treated with several regimens providing 1,000 to 3,000 mg of carbonyl iron daily in one to three doses for 8 to 28 days. After 12 weeks anemia was corrected in 29 of 32 patients, and serum ferritin was greater than 12 micrograms/L in 14.

Hemoglobin regeneration proceeded at a rate similar to that described for therapy with oral iron salts and parenteral iron dextran. There was no evidence of hematologic, hepatic, or renal toxicity, but mild gastrointestinal side effects occurred in a majority of anemic volunteers.

Carbonyl iron is an effective, inexpensive treatment for iron deficiency anemia, is accompanied by tolerable side effects and may have an advantage over therapy with iron salts by substantially reducing or eliminating the risk of iron poisoning in children.