A mother's iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study published in the scientific journal PLoS One.
The results are important because obstetricians might not notice or treat mild or moderate iron deficiency, and therefore the study authors believe their research underscores the need for monitoring a pregnant woman's iron status beyond anemia.
Low iron is so common that an estimated 35 percent to 58 percent of all healthy women show some degree of deficiency. And among women of childbearing age, one in five has iron-deficient anemia, a more serious condition, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It is well established that iron-deficient babies develop more slowly and show brain abnormalities such as slow language learning and behavioral problems. But until now investigators did not know the degree to which iron deficiency in pregnancy is associated with these impairments, and when during gestation the deficiency has the most impact on the central nervous system.
"What convinced us to conduct the present study were our preliminary data suggesting that cells involved in building the embryonic brain during the first trimester were most sensitive to low iron levels," said Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an associate professor of Biomedical Genetics at URMC.
Investigators, therefore, sought more details using a highly controlled animal model system, as it would not be feasible to study iron concentrations in developing human embryos. They found that the critical period begins in the weeks prior to conception and extends through the first trimester to the onset of the second trimester. Iron deficiency that starts in the third trimester did not seem to harm the developing brain.
|Contact: Leslie Orr|
University of Rochester Medical Center