[en] We examined whether a very-low-energy all-protein diet (VLED) would produce detectable changes in iron as well as in other trace elements. Twenty-five obese patients consumed for 2 wk a VLED containing 70 g protein after a 1-wk period during which total daily energy intake was progressively reduced to 1.26 MJ. Serum iron fell sharply by approximately equal to 50% (P < 0.0001), and despite a small decrease in total-iron-binding capacity, transferrin saturation decreased from 30 +/- 11% to 18 +/- 5% (P < 0.0001). Serum ferritin did not change significantly but serum soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), an indicator of iron deficiency, increased progressively from 4630 +/- 1110 to 6070 +/- 1390 micrograms/L (P < 0.0001). Changes in sTfR correlated inversely with prior changes in serum iron. Changes in iron metabolism did not translate into changes in erythropoiesis or red cell indexes, but the white blood cell count decreased from 7.3 +/- 1.6 to 6.2 +/- 1.9 x 10(9)/L (P < 0.002). There was no evidence of deficiency for the other trace elements and minerals tested. Daily supplementation with 200 mg Fe in 18 other subjects only partially corrected these observations despite some increase in iron stores. These results indicate that during a 2-wk VLED serum iron is significantly depressed, inducing functional tissue iron deficiency too short in duration to produce alterations in red blood cell indexes. These changes are not mediated by absolute iron deficiency, inflammation, or protein malnutrition but could be related to alterations in the iron storage and release behavior of the reticuloendothelial cell during energy deprivation alone.