Researchers in the UK and US analyzed the results of over 90 studies- a mix of randomized trials and cohort studies- of prenatal iron use and prenatal anemia, involving nearly two million women. As one of the main causes of anemia during pregnancy, low iron is a very common nutritional deficiency worldwide. An estimated 32 million pregnant women globally are affected by the condition. Young women, pregnant women and children are at the most risk of iron deficiency.
Taking iron daily during pregnancy is associated with a significant increase in birth weight and a reduction in risk of low birth weight, a new study has revealed. The research found that the effects were seen for iron doses up to 66 mg per day. Iron use increased a mother’s average hemoglobin levels compared with controls and significantly reduced the risk of anemia. There was no reduction in risk of preterm birth because of iron use.
However, analysis of cohort studies showed a significantly higher risk of low birth weight and preterm birth with anemia in the first or second trimester of pregnancy. Further analysis indicated that for every 10 mg increase in the iron dose per day -up to 66 mg per day, risk of maternal anemia was 12 percent lower, birth weight increased by 15 g and risk of low birth weight decreased by 3percent.
The authors said:
“Our findings suggest that use of iron in women during pregnancy may be used as a preventive strategy to improve maternal hematological status and birth weight, rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of existing antenatal care programs in high burden countries to identify gaps in policy and programmed implementation.” They concluded that “prenatal anemia and iron deficiency have been identified as one of the preventable risk factors for disease with a substantial disease burden.” Future research should try to find “feasible strategies of iron delivery” and “evaluation of the effectiveness of other strategies, such as fortification and dietary diversification.”
According to a University of Rochester Medical Center study, published in the scientific journal PLoS One, a pregnant mother’s iron deficiency may have a profound and long-lasting effect upon the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia.
Iron deficiency delays the development of the auditory nervous system in premature babies, in fact; research has found that infants with low iron levels in their cord blood had abnormal maturation of the auditory system compared to those with normal cord iron levels.
Iron supplementation reduces anemia, but in malnourished children, especially severely malnourished children (with protein-energy and vitamins deficiencies), iron alone would cause oxidative stress and aggravate an already bad condition.
This has been shown in a rat model and during pregnancy in placental tissue. We hypothesize that proteins should be administered in severely malnourished children so that iron is bound and is slowly made available for hematopoiesis and to correct anemia. They also state that it has been shown in clinical trials that the condition of iron deficient children suffering from Malaria and other infections worsens with iron supplementation. The same is true with anemic pregnant women when iron is supplemented without addressing their protein needs.
By: Forrest L. Rawls