Has your pediatrician or healthcare provider discussed and/or suggested your little one might need an iron supplement? Are you simply wondering whether or not iron should be a focus in your child’s diet? Let’s iron out five major facts regarding this mighty mineral and we’ll let you know just how important iron really is.
Iron Fact #1Iron is an essential mineral necessary for key body functions and plays its most important role as a component in our blood. Iron attaches itself to a protein called hemoglobin in our red blood cells, which transports oxygen to nearly all of our body parts.
Iron Fact #2Adequate iron stores are important for normal childhood growth and development; however, iron deficiency is the leading nutrient deficiency in the United States and in many other countries worldwide. If an infant or child does not have enough iron, either because they aren’t consuming enough in their diet or as a result of iron depletion, they can develop a condition called iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This is when the red blood cell count gets too low, limiting the delivery of oxygen to vital organs. In children, this often occurs between 10 and 18 months of age - a critical period of brain development. IDA can potentially result in decreased IQ, learning deficits and disorders, speech delay, behavioral issues and other irreversible sequelae. Children can also develop a syndrome known as pica where they crave and therefore consume a non-nutritive substance, such as ice or soil. A severe iron deficiency can even be life threatening, presenting with symptoms such as extreme fatigue, confusion, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
Iron Fact #3There are some common causes of iron deficiency in the pediatric population to be aware of. A leading cause of iron deficiency is insufficient dietary intake of iron to adequately support a rapidly growing infant or child. In babies, there is a natural accumulation of iron during the last weeks of pregnancy. However, these are usually depleted after four months of age. Babies whose primary dietary intake is iron-fortified formula are at lower risk for IDA. Primarily breast-fed babies are at greater risk due to lower concentrations of iron in breast milk. Breastmilk provides many great health benefits, but when it comes to iron, it is important to consider providing an iron supplement (like Wellements Organic Iron Drops) around four months of age and incorporate iron-rich foods when you introduce solids. Another potential cause of IDA is a condition known as anemia of prematurity. Unlike full term babies born after 38 weeks gestation, premature babies do not build up the crucial iron stores used in the first four months of life. Additionally, preterm babies that have to spend an extended amount of time in the hospital and have blood samples taken, have an increased risk of IDA. Even greater consideration towards iron supplementation is important in a scenario like this, as well as a broader infant multivitamin.In the case that your baby is premature, check with your healthcare provider first to know what the best method of iron supplementation is for your little one. Parents should also be aware of other conditions which result in blood loss or iron malabsorption leading to IDA. For instance, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract (GI) from a milk protein allergy is a common issue in infancy potentially resulting in anemia.
Iron Fact #4There are a wide range of dietary sources rich in iron which work for most children. This allows you to add the ones to your diet that fit best with your lifestyle, dietary, and cultural preferences. Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, fortified grains and breads are all examples of excellent dietary iron sources. Consuming non-animal sources of iron in combination with foods higher in vitamin C (i.e. citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers) will assist with iron absorption. Also, providing a liquid multivitamin (link to Wellements multi) containing vitamin C will accomplish this, too!
Iron Fact #5There are dietary sources that can negatively impact iron stores as well. Milk is a relatively common part of the U.S. diet; however consuming cow’s milk before one year of age or drinking too much cow’s milk after one (greater than 24 ounces daily), can reduce iron stores. In my medical practice, I encourage parents to offer their kids only water to drink (and breast milk if mom is still providing it) after twelve months of age. My motto is that kids should “eat calories and drink only water”. Cow’s milk (along with juice, soda, and sport’s drinks) is not necessary or healthful for a growing child; this comes as a surprise to many. Milk is very low in absorbable iron, can block the absorption of iron, and can trigger bleeding in the GI tract. Iron is an essential mighty mineral which is needed to keep our bodies healthy. Awareness of these five facts, making sound dietary choices, and selecting quality supplements with carefully sourced ingredients when needed, are key to maintaining proper iron stores. As with most things, it’s important to remember that too much iron can also be toxic. Think of your health in a holistic fashion with many contributing factors and always discuss the consideration of supplements with your health care provider. For more information about iron deficiency anemia, click here!
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