Delayed Brain Development for Children with Iron Deficiency
Kids require different amounts of iron at various ages and stages.Iron is a nutrient that's an essential part of child's regular diet and is needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Without enough iron, the body can't make enough red blood cells and the body's tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need to function well. So it's especially important for kids and teens to get enough iron in their daily diets.
Even babies with low iron levels grow up impaired. Children with low levels of iron as infants may grow up with brain deficiencies -- even if they get early treatment, U.S. researchers reported.
A study of 185 Costa Rican teenagers shows that babies with the worst iron deficiency never recovered on tests of learning, memory and thinking and the poorest of these children worsened as they got older.
The report, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, shows the importance of early nutrition for babies, the researchers said.
"If direct and indirect effects of early iron deficiency on the brain disrupted or delayed basic developmental processes, there could be a snowball effect," said Dr. Betsy Lozoff of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the study.
Lozoff and her team, funded by the National Institutes of Health, studied the 185 children starting at one year of age. They were screened for iron deficiency at their first visit and given regular, age-appropriate cognitive tests to assess their ability to learn, think and remember.
Babies with low iron levels were given supplements but some never got up to normal levels, even though the treatment took care of the worst cases, diagnosed as anemia, in all the infants.
The researchers compared the 53 babies with chronic iron deficiency to the 132 normal children.
Among the children from middle-class families, the gap in cognitive skills never closed, the researchers found.
"However, those in lower-socioeconomic status families seemed doubly burdened; the gap widened substantially from 10 points in infancy to 25 points at age 19 years," they wrote.
A fifth to one-fourth of children around the world have iron deficiency anemia, in which a lack of iron causes problems with red blood cells.
Early treatment is essential, the researchers noted.
A second study in the same journal found that children who kept drinking cow's milk from bottles past the age of a year were more likely to be iron-deficient than babies the same age who drank from a cup.
Dr. Trenna Sutcliffe of the University of Toronto and colleagues tested 150 healthy children, aged 12 to 38 months, who drank unfortified cow milk.
They found that 37 percent of the bottle-fed babies and 18 percent of the cup-fed children had lower than desired iron levels.
"The bottle may act as a vehicle for excessive milk consumption, which may compromise iron absorption or the intake of iron-rich foods or juices," the researchers wrote.
Although the nutrient can be found in various kinds of foods, iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed by the body than iron found in plant foods. Some examples of iron-rich foods that can make your family's diet all the more nutritious include:
- red meat
- dark poultry
- enriched grains
- dried fruits
- leafy green vegetables
- blackstrap molasses
- iron-fortified breakfast cereals (Iron-fortified products such as cereal can be a great way to incorporate more iron in your child's diet. Offer your child whole-grain, low-sugar varieties. Although it's tempting, banning sugary cereals could make your child feel deprived. Instead, offer them only once in a while.)