High frequencies of the C282Y and H63D mutations of the HFE gene occur in European populations, even though homozygous and compound heterozygous states are associated with hereditary haemochromatosis, which is a disease that decreases fitness. This suggests that heterozygotes may possess a selective advantage. HFE mutations increase iron absorption in patients with haemochromatosis, and the mean transferrin saturations and ferritin levels are mildly increased in heterozygotes, suggesting that HFE mutations may protect against iron depletion and iron deficiency anaemia. In this study of 23,681 Caucasian adults, mean transferrin saturation, serum ferritin and haemoglobin levels were significantly higher in subjects carrying HFE mutations compared with wild types. Analysed by ethnicity, mean haemoglobin and mean erythrocyte volume (MCV) were significantly lower in those with a southern versus northern European ancestry. C282Y mutation carriers had an increased mean haemoglobin level in both ethnic groups. Prevalence of non-anaemic iron deficiency was significantly lower among female carriers of the C282Y mutation compared with HFE wild types. However, prevalence of frank iron deficiency anaemia did not differ significantly among genotypes. Quantile:quantile plots showed a small but significant upward shift in the mid-range of the haemoglobin distribution among C282Y mutation carriers that was consistent with an increased mean haemoglobin level without significant changes in the anaemic range.