Send to

Choose Destination
Food Nutr Bull. 2007 Dec;28(4 Suppl):S524-39.

Iron metabolism and malaria.

Author information

MRC International Nutrition Group, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London 1IE 7HT, United Kingdom.


Recent evidence from a large, randomized, controlled trial has suggested that the universal administration of iron to children in malaria-endemic areas is associated with an increase in adverse health outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the available ecologic and intervention trials related to iron and malaria in children, and to set these against current knowledge of the biology of host-pathogen interactions involving iron metabolism. We conclude that, although not fully consistent, the balance of evidence confirms that administration of iron (usually in combination with folic acid) increases the incidence of malaria when given without prophylaxis and in the absence of universal access to treatment. The mechanisms by which additional iron can benefit the parasite are far from clear. There is evidence to suggest that the apparent detrimental effect of iron supplementation may vary according to levels of antecedent iron status, the presence of hemoglobinopathies and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, and other host genetic variants, such as variants in haptoglobin. The effects of malaria on host iron metabolism are also reviewed and reveal that the key cause of malaria-induced anemia is a maldistribution of iron and suppression of erythropoiesis rather than an exacerbation of gross iron deficiency. We tentatively conclude that, if it is to be recommended, universal iron supplementation in malarious areas should only be considered in conjunction with some form of prophylaxis (e.g., intermittent preventive therapy [IPT]) or in the context of good health services with ready access to facilities for malaria diagnosis and treatment. An alternative approach would be to screen for anemia and target supplementation only to anemic children. With regard to treatment, there is good evidence that iron supplementation should be withheld until the treatment schedule is complete, both because iron may inhibit treatment and because the absorption of oral iron is blocked by the inflammatory response.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center