Effects of iron-deficiency anemia in infants linger

BALTIMORE - Infants with iron-deficiency anemia may suffer long-lasting central nervous system effects even with early treatment, say researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Chile.

Results of a new collaborative U-M study that will be presented April 28 at the 2001 Pediatric Academic Societies and American Academy of Pediatrics joint meeting found that 3- to 4-year-old children who were treated for iron-deficiency anemia in infancy show slower transmission of nerve impulses throughout the brain in both the auditory and visual systems.

"This is the most direct evidence to date that iron-deficiency anemia in infancy has long-lasting effects on the developing brain," says Betsy Lozoff, M.D., director of the U-M Center for Human Growth & Development and professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases.

Iron deficiency - a severe lack of iron in the blood - is the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world and infants are one of the age groups at highest risk, Lozoff says. In the U.S., iron fortification of infant formula was begun 30 years ago, and iron-deficiency anemia was drastically decreased. However, about 20 percent to 25 percent of all infants in the world have iron-deficiency anemia, and many more have iron deficiency that is not severe enough to cause anemia.

The investigators hypothesize that the differences in nerve conduction are due to problems in myelination, because iron is required for normal myelination. The myelin sheath, which acts like the casing of a sausage around the nerve, allows for more speedy transmission of signals from the brain to the rest of the body or from the periphery back to the brain. Without myelin, signals cannot be transmitted as efficiently. Much myelin formation takes place early in a child's life.

The collaborative U-M and University of Chile study examined 84 Chilean children - 41 who had iron-deficiency anemia as infants and were treated with iron, and 43 who were never

Contact: Valerie Gliem
University of Michigan Health System

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