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Iron supplements improve colds and upper respiratory tract infections in anemic children.


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 principal 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 was iron-deficient.

"Our study--the first controlled study in young children with recurrent URTI to date--shows no increase in gastrointestinal 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 added that iron deficiency affects about 10 percent of infants and toddlers in the United States and is a leading risk factor in developing and developed countries that leads to high mortality rates. Their study showed there is no longer any reason to delay correcting iron deficiency in children with URTIs.

Nearly 500 children from among the patients at the Outpatient Department of the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, were recruited for the study. Children with severe anemia, a history of other systemic diseases, chronic bronchial asthma, or chronic diarrhea were excluded from the study. The children were followed up with medical treatment.

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

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

The authors concluded that the higher mean number of illness-free days in iron group than in the placebo group suggested that "iron supplementation would be likely to improve the quality of life of these children and to ensure better school attendance."

Iron should only be taken under the supervision of a qualified physician.

(Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2003.)
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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