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J Nutr. 2001 Feb;131(2S-2):616S-633S; discussion 633S-635S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.2.616S.

Iron and its relation to immunity and infectious disease.

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Green College, Oxford, UK.


The continuing unresolved debate over the interaction of iron and infection indicates a need for quantitative review of clinical morbidity outcomes. Iron deficiency is associated with reversible abnormalities of immune function, but it is difficult to demonstrate the severity and relevance of these in observational studies. Iron treatment has been associated with acute exacerbations of infection, in particular, malaria. Oral iron has been associated with increased rates of clinical malaria (5 of 9 studies) and increased morbidity from other infectious disease (4 of 8 studies). In most instances, therapeutic doses of oral iron were used. No studies in malarial regions showed benefits. Knowledge of local prevalence of causes of anemia including iron deficiency, seasonal malarial endemicity, protective hemoglobinopathies and age-specific immunity is essential in planning interventions. A balance must be struck in dose of oral iron and the timing of intervention with respect to age and malaria transmission. Antimalarial intervention is important. No studies of oral iron supplementation clearly show deleterious effects in nonmalarious areas. Milk fortification reduced morbidity due to respiratory disease in two very early studies in nonmalarious regions, but this was not confirmed in three later fortification studies, and better morbidity rates could be achieved by breast-feeding alone. One study in a nonmalarious area of Indonesia showed reduced infectious outcome after oral iron supplementation of anemic schoolchildren. No systematic studies report oral iron supplementation and infectious morbidity in breast-fed infants in nonmalarious regions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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