Iron supplementation can provide cognitive and physical benefits to anemic children

October 15, 2013

Giving daily iron supplements to anemic primary-school–aged children can have cognitive and physical benefits, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Globally, approximately 25% of school-aged children are anemic, with the cause of about half of all cases. Iron deficiency, which has been associated with impaired cognitive and physical development, is caused by a lack of dietary iron and, in developing countries, by parasites such as hookworm and schistosomiasis. In developed countries, newcomers, native people and some ethnic populations can be anemic. About 3% of primary-school–aged children in Canada are anemic. However, concerns that iron supplementation may have negative health effects limit efforts to address iron deficiencies.

To understand the effects of iron supplementation, Australian researchers conducted an analysis of 32 studies including 7089 children mainly in low- and middle-income countries. Anemic children who received iron supplements had higher cognitive scores than children in the control groups (9 studies with 2355 children). They also showed substantial improvement in IQ scores and other cognitive tests. Children who received were also slightly taller for their age and had improved weight-for-age compared with children who did not.

"We found evidence of a benefit of iron supplementation on cognitive performance among primary-school–aged children, including on IQ among children with anemia," writes Dr. Sant-Rayn Pasricha, The Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, with coauthors. "Iron may also improve growth. Daily iron supplementation decreased the prevalence of anemia by about 50% and reduced the prevalence of iron deficiency by 79%."

There appeared to be no adverse effects, with no differences in the prevalence of malaria or gastrointestinal issues between the groups that received iron and the control groups. In addition, some studies reported fewer respiratory tract infections.

The study is larger and broader than others, with a comprehensive analysis of benefits and safety of iron supplementation.

"Iron supplementation benefits global cognitive performance … .Routine daily iron supplementation is likely to benefit cognitive performance in primary school children in developing settings where anemia is prevalent and testing hemoglobin before iron supplementation may not be feasible," the authors conclude.

In a related commentary, Dr. Katherine Gray-Donald, McGill University, Montréal, writes that this meta-analysis "is important in that it quantifies the robust effects of on among anemic children who are iron deficient. The next challenge is to determine how to safely, economically and sustainably provide better iron nutrition to children in many poor settings of the world. Clearly anemic will benefit, but the risks of iron for all remain to be elucidated."

Explore further: Twice weekly iron supplementation to pregnant women as effective as a daily regime

More information: Research paper: www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.130628
Commentary: www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.131249

Related Stories

Iron supplements can reduce fatigue in nonanemic women

July 9, 2012

Iron supplementation reduced fatigue by almost 50% in women who are low in iron but not anemic, according to the results of a clinical trial published July 9 in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Low iron levels slow down female athletes

November 21, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Female athletes with low levels of iron in their bodies, yet who are not anemic, may be at a disadvantage even before their competitive season starts, according to a new Cornell study. These athletes could ...

Recommended for you

Artificial beta cells

December 8, 2016

Researchers led by ETH Professor Martin Fussenegger at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel have produced artificial beta cells using a straightforward engineering approach.

Key regulator of bone development identified

December 8, 2016

Loss of a key protein leads to defects in skeletal development including reduced bone density and a shortening of the fingers and toes—a condition known as brachydactyly. The discovery was made by researchers at Penn State ...

Researchers question lifelong immunity to toxoplasmosis

December 8, 2016

Medical students are taught that once infected with Toxoplasma gondii—the "cat parasite"—then you're protected from reinfection for the rest of your life. This dogma should be questioned, argue researchers in an Opinion ...

TET proteins drive early neurogenesis

December 7, 2016

The fate of stem cells is determined by series of choices that sequentially narrow their available options until stem cells' offspring have found their station and purpose in the body. Their decisions are guided in part by ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.