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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Dec;106(Suppl 6):1688S-1693S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.156067. Epub 2017 Oct 25.

The effects of iron fortification and supplementation on the gut microbiome and diarrhea in infants and children: a review.

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Laboratory of Human Nutrition, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Laboratory of Human Nutrition, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland


In infants and young children in Sub-Saharan Africa, iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) is common, and many complementary foods are low in bioavailable iron. In-home fortification of complementary foods using iron-containing micronutrient powders (MNPs) and oral iron supplementation are both effective strategies to increase iron intakes and reduce IDA at this age. However, these interventions produce large increases in colonic iron because the absorption of their high iron dose (≥12.5 mg) is typically <20%. We reviewed studies in infants and young children on the effects of iron supplements and iron fortification with MNPs on the gut microbiome and diarrhea. Iron-containing MNPs and iron supplements can modestly increase diarrhea risk, and in vitro and in vivo studies have suggested that this occurs because increases in colonic iron adversely affect the gut microbiome in that they decrease abundances of beneficial barrier commensal gut bacteria (e.g., bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) and increase the abundance of enterobacteria including entropathogenic Escherichia coli These changes are associated with increased gut inflammation. Therefore, safer formulations of iron-containing supplements and MNPs are needed. To improve MNP safety, the iron dose of these formulations should be reduced while maximizing absorption to retain efficacy. Also, the addition of prebiotics to MNPs is a promising approach to mitigate the adverse effects of iron on the infant gut.


calprotectin; childhood; diarrhea; enterobacteria; gut inflammation; gut microbiome; infancy; iron fortification; iron supplementation; micronutrient powders

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