Iron is an important mineral for brain development in babies and children. It is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are essential for regulating mood. Additionally it is needed to help produce myelin in the brain, which acts as a conduction system for nerve firing.
When iron stores are low during the stages of rapid brain growth, it contributes to both short and long-term motor, cognitive, and social-emotional development. Many studies have linked iron deficiency to anxiety, ADHD, tic disorders and restless leg syndrome. Research suggests these implications persist despite iron repletion if levels are low for a significant period of time during development. Because of this prevention, early detection and proper treatment are crucial.
Prevention of anemia in children starts with proper prenatal care. When in the womb, the baby is completely reliant on maternal stores of nutrients. If the mothers stores or inadequate the baby can develop anemia. This is also the case during breastfeeding. Proper prenatal nutrition and iron supplementation are essential for these early stages of development.
There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from animal sources whereas non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods. Our bodies more easily utilize heme iron (animal iron). Therefor people who do not eat meat are at greater risk for developing anemia and need to be extra careful to ensure adequate levels in the diet. Sources of heme iron include beef, liver, clams, turkey and chicken. Sources of non-heme iron include dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Iron supplementation should only be done under the care of a physician. Iron is a unique mineral in the sense that the only way the body gets rid of it is though blood loss. It is not excreted in the bowels or urine. Because of this, iron accumulated in the body throughout a person’s entire lifetime. Iron overload can be very toxic and can cause serious health conditions. It is for this reason supplementation is only recommended if iron deficiency is verified through lab work and is able to be monitored over time.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or concerned your child may be at risk for low iron, please consult a physician for a proper workup. Early detection is key for the best outcomes of both mother and child.
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