The vitamin pushers are quick to point out the benefits of specific nutrients. They can back up their claims with scientific studies, which demonstrate the nutrients healing powers, BUT these studies are based on fixing hidden hungers.
Consuming the nutrient in excess or in the absence of an inherent shortage, causes the level within the body to be higher than normal physiological levels.
This can change the properties of the chemical, so it goes from being good, to neutral, to BAD.
The power of iron
Many babies, particularly in the developing world, begin life with an iron shortage.
The iron shortage usually starts when Mom is low on iron herself, so she is not able to meet the child’s high demands for iron during its development in the womb.
Since one of iron’s major jobs is to carry oxygen around the body. Low iron levels impact on the oxygen availability when the brain is being formed, which often constrains it’s development, causing poorer cognitive functioning.
Iron fortified formula
The problem of iron deficiency in infancy, has led to routine iron fortification of infant formula and foods in many countries.
So does it work ?
The Chile study
10 years ago, researchers in Chile enrolled 835 healthy full-term infants in a formula study. At 6 months of age, the babies received formula – either with or without iron until they were 12 months old.
The researchers managed to track down 473 of these children, 10 years later, and assessed them in terms of
- spatial memory,
- arithmetic achievement,
- visual-motor integration,
- visual perception and
- motor functioning.
Iron-fortified group were the dunces
The babies who had received the iron-fortified formula did not come out tops.
In the spatial memory and visual-motor integration test, they did significantly worse than those that had received no iron.
In the remaining tests, they didn’t shine either, scoring lower than the no iron kids, but not significantly lower.
Iron scores equal NOW
At the age of 10, all but one kid had normal iron levels, irrespective of whether they had received iron enriched formula or not.
Extra iron the problem
When the researchers analyzed the results a little more closely, they found kids who were iron deficient as infants, showed improved performance, but the kids who were already iron sufficient as infants, showed poorer performance.
A case of too much of a good thing ?
Check your levels before you self medicate
Your haemoglobin levels are a good proxy for your iron status – get your levels checked before you supplement and don’t fall for the marketing hype proclaiming BUY ME because I’ve got extra iron.
A force for good
Too little iron causes iron deficiency anaemia, which leaves you feeling like a dish rag, tired and listless.
A force for evil
Iron is a powerful oxidizing agent, which simply means it is capable of causing oxidative stress i.e. it can poke holes in cell membranes and damage DNA and other components of the cell. Excess iron has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc
Make sure the force is with you, not against you !Iron-Fortified vs Low-Iron Infant Formula: Developmental Outcome at 10 Years. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (2011) B. Lozoff, M. Castillo, K. M. Clark, J. B. Smith
Interested in learning more about the chemistry that boosts cognitive performance ?
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