Extra iron doesn't help many pregnant women

Mar 11, 2011
This is a mother with her child on pregnancy consultation in Burkina Faso, during the study of iron supplementation. Credit: © ITM

Although universal prenatal supplementation with iron is recommended, an extra intake of iron does not noticeably benefit pregnant women, except when they are anemic. This was observed by researchers of the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp and colleagues who followed more than a thousand pregnant women in Burkina Faso.

Our body needs to produce hemoglobin, the substance in our red blood cells responsible for the transport of oxygen through our body. In Western countries anemia – a shortage of oxygen transporters – is rare, but in Africa up to half of all women are anemic. Of the 1268 pregnant women in this study, 43% was anemic.

Half of those women received daily pills with 60 milligrams of iron (plus folic acid); the other half received 30 mg of iron (plus folic acid, zinc, vitamins A and C and other micronutrients). Chance decided who got what. The women took the pills until 3 months after delivery. At the end of the study, all women ended up with about the same levels of iron in their blood, regardless of how much iron they had taken. They al had around 11 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter of blood, say slightly below normal.

During pregnancy, when also the growing child needs oxygen, women need more iron than normally, certainly towards the end of their pregnancy. But the administration of extra iron to the 'normal' women could not prevent their hemoglobin levels from (slightly) dropping. "The benefit of iron supplements in nonanemic women is unclear", the authors conclude in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In Africa, where many people are malnourished, and where parasites also take their part, many women suffer from iron-poor blood. That of course has to be supplemented. In anemic women the pills made the iron levels go up, to the same level as in the other : a bit below normal.

Explore further: Common drugs adversely impair older adults' physical as well as cognitive functioning

Provided by Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LSTM begins £0.5 million malaria study in Burkina Faso

Feb 03, 2010

A new study led by LSTM will investigate whether long-term weekly iron and folic acid supplementation can reduce anaemia without increasing the risk of contracting malaria. The information provided by the study, based in ...

Drugs that save infants' lives

Jul 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Sydney have found the combined intake of iron-folic acid supplements with World Health Organisation (WHO)-endorsed anti-malarial drugs during pregnancy could ...

Multivitamins in pregnancy reduce risk of low birth weights

Jun 08, 2009

Prenatal multivitamin supplements are associated with a significantly reduced risk of babies with a low birth weight compared with prenatal iron-folic acid supplementation, found a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Jo ...

Recommended for you

Researchers review help for navigating 'Dr Google'

1 hour ago

With the onset of the digital age more and more people are turning to 'Dr Google' for health and medical information, however local researchers are worried about a lack of resources for helping consumers ...

Baby bonus blues ahead for mothers

2 hours ago

Young mothers who are not in the paid workforce or are marginally employed will be significantly disadvantaged by the removal of the Baby Bonus.

User comments : 0