A recent study found that iron supplements for children may be helpful in safely reducing their risk of anemia.
Anemia is a blood disorder in which the body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin contains iron and is the primary component of red blood cells. Hemoglobin helps these cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
Not all children necessarily need iron supplements. Parents should discuss with pediatricians whether their child might be at risk for not having enough iron.
"Ask your pediatrician about your child's iron needs."
The study, led by Michael Low, MBBS, of Department of Clinical Hematology at The Alfred Hospital in Prahran, Australia, looked at the safety and effectiveness of iron supplements for children in preventing or treating anemia.
The researchers looked for all studies through July 2013 in medical research databases that included trials for iron supplementation in children aged 5 to 12.
Out of more than 16,000 studies, the researchers identified 32 studies that met all of their requirements and included a total of 7,089 children.
All but one of these studies focused on children in low- or middle-income countries.
The researchers pulled the results from all these studies and analyzed them all together.
This analysis revealed that children receiving iron supplementation improved their overall cognitive scores based on the assessments used throughout the studies.
In addition, anemic children who received iron supplements had an average IQ 4.55 points higher than anemic children who did not receive supplementation.
The children (anemic or not) who received iron supplementation also performed better in assessments of their attention and concentration.
The children with anemia included in the studies were also more likely to be within an appropriate range for their age for height and weight if they received iron supplements, compared to anemic children not receiving supplementation.
Children were half as likely to develop anemia if they received iron supplementation and their risk of iron deficiency was reduced by 79 percent.
However, the studies did not provide much information about the safety of iron supplementation.
The researchers did find that children receiving iron supplements had fewer respiratory tract infections in one study, though another study found no difference.
The researchers did not find any differences among children receiving or not receiving iron supplements in terms of upset stomach, constipation, vomiting or diarrhea.
"Our analysis suggests that iron supplementation safely improves hematologic and non-hematologic outcomes among primary school–aged children in low- or middle-income settings and is well-tolerated," the researchers wrote.
Kourosh Parsapour, MD MBA, a pediatrician and founder and CEO of 5plus, told dailyRx that most babies are born with sufficient reserves of iron that will protect them from anemia.
"In breastfed babies that are properly transitioned to baby foods with supplemental iron, there is sufficient, well-absorbed iron to provide an adequate supply so that no additional supplement is necessary," he said.
"In a bottle-fed baby, it is now recommended that iron-fortified formula, containing from 4 to 12 mg of iron, be provided from birth through the entire first year of life," Dr. Parsapour said. "Premature babies have fewer iron stores, so they often need additional iron beyond what they receive from breastmilk or formula."
He noted that this study supports the 2010 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics on iron supplementation.
"By the time anemia develops, the child has been iron-deficient for a period of time," Dr. Parsapour said.
"The developmental impact of iron-deficiency and the growing body of evidence that supports the benefits associated with non-anemic children overwhelmingly outweighs the minimal side effects that may be caused by appropriately dosed iron therapy, such as gastric irritation and constipation," he said.
The study was published October 15 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The lead author has received travel funds from Gilead Sciences, and another author has received research funds from Vifor Pharma. The other authors had no possible conflicts of interest.