Effects of iron supplementation on iron status, health and neurological development in marginally low birth weight infants
Abstract: Background Due to small iron stores and rapid growth during the first months of life, infants with low birth weight (LBW) are at risk of iron deficiency (ID). ID in infancy is associated with irreversible impaired neurodevelopment. Preventive iron supplementation may reduce the risk of ID and benefit neurodevelopment, but there is also a possible risk of adverse effects. More than 50% of all LBW infants are born with marginally LBW (MLBW, 2000-2500g), and it is not known if they benefit from iron supplementation.Methods We randomized 285 healthy, Swedish, MLBW infants to receive 3 different doses of oral iron supplements; 0 (Placebo), 1, and 2 mg/kg/day from six weeks to six months of age. Iron status, during and after the intervention was assessed and so was the prevalence of ID and ID anemia (IDA), growth, morbidity and the interplay with iron and the erythropoetic hormones hepcidin and erythropoietin (EPO). As a proxy for conduction speed in the developing brain, auditory brainstem response (ABR) was analyzed at six months. In a follow up at 3.5 years of age, the children were assessed with a cognitive test (WPPSI-III) and a validated parental checklist of behavioral problems (CBCL), and compared to a matched reference group of 95 children born with normal birth weight.Results At six months of age, the prevalence of ID and IDA was significantly higher in the placebo group compared to the iron supplemented infants. 36% had ID in the placebo group, compared to 8% and 4 % in the 1 and 2mg/kg/day-groups, respectively. The prevalence of IDA was 10%, 3% and 0%, respectively. ABR-latencies did not correlate with the iron intake and was not increased in infants with ID or IDA. ABR wave V latencies were similar in all three groups. Hepcidin correlated to ferritin and increased in supplemented infants while EPO, which was negatively correlated to iron status indicators, decreased. At follow up there were no differences in cognitive scores between the groups but the prevalence of behavioral problems was significantly higher in the placebo group compared to those supplemented and to controls. The relative risk increase of CBCL-scores above a validated cutoff was 4.5 (1.4 – 14.2) in the placebo-group compared to supplemented children. There was no detected difference in growth or morbidity at any age.Conclusion MLBW infants are at risk of ID in infancy and behavioral problems at 3 years of age. Iron supplementation at a dose of 1-2 mg/kg/day from six weeks to six months of age reduces the risks with no adverse effects, suggesting both short and long term benefit. MLBW infants should be included in general iron supplementation programs during their first six months of life.
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