(NaturalNews) Researchers in Sweden believe they have found a way to help low birth weight newborns: iron supplementation.
According to scientists from Umea University, the largest in northern Scandinavia, supplemental iron could boost brain development and help prevent behavioral problems in babies who are a little undersized at birth.
Low birth-weight (LBW) babies can be more likely to wind up iron deficient, said the researchers, so they need more of the nutrient to catch up in growth. In addition, they said, LBW babies haven’t stored as much iron as other babies not born prematurely.
For these reasons, very early-term and small babies are often placed on supplemental iron. But not as much research has focused on newborns that are just under normal weight to see if they, too, were at risk.
“I think this further solidifies the evidence that it’s a very good idea to give these (marginally low birth-weight) children iron supplements,” said Dr. Magnus Domellof, who worked on the study.
Decrease in ADHD seen
The research was led by Dr. Staffan Berglund, Domellof’s colleague. Their team followed 285 infants born between four pounds, seven ounces and five pounds, eight ounces. The results of the study, titled “Effects of Iron Supplementation on LBW Infants on Cognition and Behavior at 3 Years,” were published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers randomly assigned the tracked infants to get iron drops – either one or two milligrams per kilogram of body weight – or iron-free placebo drops each day between the ages of six weeks and six months.
“At age three-and-a-half, these infants and 95 who had a normal birth weight were assessed for intelligence and behavior. There were no significant differences in IQ between the low birth weight groups and the normal-weight control group,” says a press release from the university.
“However, for behavioral problems like ADHD, there was a significant effect from the iron supplements. Of the low birth weight infants who received no iron supplements, 12.7 percent showed signs of behavior problems, compared to 2.9 percent of infants in the 1-mg group and 2.7 percent of the 2-mg group. In the control group, 3.2 percent of children showed signs of behavioral problems,” the release said.
‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’
The study concluded:
Early iron supplementation of marginally LBW infants does not affect cognitive functions at 3.5 years of age but significantly reduces the prevalence of behavioral problems. The study suggests a causal relation between infant iron deficiency and later behavioral problems.
Researchers said they are continuing to follow the group of children as they grow, “to see if new cognitive or behavioral problems develop or old ones get better as the children head into grade school,” Reuters reported.
Domellof said he and fellow researchers did not see any additional gastrointestinal problems in children or delayed growth that could be tied to the use of iron drops. In the past, some research has suggested that giving too much iron to young kids who aren’t deficient could actually stunt their development.
Still, “I would not be afraid of recommending this to all children (born) below 2,500 grams (five pounds, eight ounces) at this dose,” Domellof told Reuters Health.
“Here’s where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Dr. Michael Georgieff, a child development researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who reviewed the study as part of Berglund’s dissertation committee, told the newswire. He said that it is important for all parents to know what their baby’s iron requirements are when they leave the hospital after birth.
“The issue with these marginally low birth-weight infants is, people really haven’t paid a lot of attention to them, but the evidence is accumulating that they are at risk for behavioral problems and less than ideal cognitive function,” added Dr. Betsy Lozoff, who studies the effects of iron deficiency in infants at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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