This investigation compared the effects of an extended period of weight-bearing (running) vs. non-weight-bearing (cycling) exercise on hepcidin production and its implications for iron status.
Ten active males performed two separate exercise training blocks with either running (RTB) or cycling (CTB) as the exercise mode. Each block consisted of five training sessions (Day 1, 2, 4, 5, 6) performed over a seven day period that were matched for exercise intensity. Basal venous blood samples were obtained on Day 1 (D1), and on Recovery Days 3 (R3) and 7 (R7) to assess iron status, while basal and 3 h post-exercise urinary hepcidin levels were measured on D1, D2, D6, as well as R3 and R7 (basal levels only) for each condition.
Basal urinary hepcidin levels were significantly elevated (p ≤ 0.05) at D2, R3 and R7 as compared to D1 in RTB. Furthermore, 3 h post-exercise urinary hepcidin levels on D1 were also significantly higher in RTB compared to CTB (p ≤ 0.05). In CTB, urinary hepcidin levels were not statistically different on D1 as compared to R7. Iron parameters were not significantly different at D1 compared to R3 and R7 during both conditions.
These results suggest that basal hepcidin levels may increase over the course of an extended training program, especially if a weight-bearing exercise modality is undertaken. However, despite any variations in hepcidin production, serum iron parameters in both RTB and CTB were unaffected, possibly due to the short duration of each training block. In comparing running to cycling, non-weight-bearing activity may require more training sessions, or sessions of extended duration, before any significant changes in basal hepcidin levels appear. Chronic elevations in hepcidin levels may help to explain the high incidence of iron deficiency in athletes.