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Iron supplements help anemic children even if they have colds


In a recent study, giving iron supplements to anemic children when they have a cold or other upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) significantly improved their iron status without increasing stomach upset or other side effects, says a Penn State nutritionist.

Dr. Namanjeet Ahluwalia, associate professor of nutrition and principle investigator on the research team, says, "Because of conflicting results from previous studies, physicians preferred to be cautious and generally withhold iron until a child was infection-free – which could delay the benefits of treatment if a child is iron deficient.

"Our study – the first controlled study in young children with recurrent URTI to date -- shows no increase in gastro-intestinal or other side effects from supplementation. In fact, children who received the iron supplement experienced 9 to 10 fewer sick days than those who did not. Those who did not receive supplementation were sick more often and for longer periods of time."

She adds, "Iron deficiency affects about 10 percent of U.S. infants and toddlers and is a leading health risk factor in high mortality, developing and developed countries. Our study shows there is no longer any reason to give correcting iron deficiency a back seat in children who have upper respiratory tract infections if iron deficiency is indicated."

The team’s study is detailed in a paper, "Iron Supplementation Improves Iron Status and Reduces Morbidity in Children With or Without Upper Respiratory Tract Infections; A Randomized Controlled Study in Colombo, Sri Lanka" which appears in the current (January) issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors are Angela de Silva, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colombo whom Ahluwalia is co-advising; Dr. Sunethra Atukorala, professor of biochemistry at the University of Colombo; and Dr. Irangani Weerasinghe, a physician at the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital in Colombo and Ahluwalia.

Nearly 500 children were recruited for the study from among the patients at the Outpatient Department of the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is a non-fee, state-run hospital. Children with severe anemia, a history of other systemic diseases, chronic bronchial asthma, or chronic diarrhea were excluded from the study, and followed up with medical treatment.

Among the study participants with infections, 127 children were given supplements and 52 given a placebo or pills that did not contain iron. One hundred and thirty four children without infection were given iron and 50 given the placebo. All children who were still anemic at the end of the 8-week study period received supplements. The supplement was a tablet containing 60 mg of iron, the recommended daily dose.

Of the children with infections, those who received iron had 29 percent fewer upper respiratory episodes than those who received a placebo and had infectious episodes that were 40 percent less severe than those of the children who received placebos. Children who did not have iron deficiency but received iron anyway didn’t have an increase in colds or stomach upset versus those given placebo.

The authors write, "The higher mean number of illness-free days in the children who received iron than in those who received placebo suggests that iron supplementation is likely to improve the quality of life of these children and ensure better school attendance."

Barbara Hale | EurekAlert!
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