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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Dec;106(Suppl 6):1575S-1580S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.155820. Epub 2017 Oct 25.

Development of iron homeostasis in infants and young children.

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Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA


Healthy, term, breastfed infants usually have adequate iron stores that, together with the small amount of iron that is contributed by breast milk, make them iron sufficient until ≥6 mo of age. The appropriate concentration of iron in infant formula to achieve iron sufficiency is more controversial. Infants who are fed formula with varying concentrations of iron generally achieve sufficiency with iron concentrations of 2 mg/L (i.e., with iron status that is similar to that of breastfed infants at 6 mo of age). Regardless of the feeding choice, infants' capacity to regulate iron homeostasis is important but less well understood than the regulation of iron absorption in adults, which is inverse to iron status and strongly upregulated or downregulated. Infants who were given daily iron drops compared with a placebo from 4 to 6 mo of age had similar increases in hemoglobin concentrations. In addition, isotope studies have shown no difference in iron absorption between infants with high or low hemoglobin concentrations at 6 mo of age. Together, these findings suggest a lack of homeostatic regulation of iron homeostasis in young infants. However, at 9 mo of age, homeostatic regulatory capacity has developed although, to our knowledge, its extent is not known. Studies in suckling rat pups showed similar results with no capacity to regulate iron homeostasis at 10 d of age when fully nursing, but such capacity occurred at 20 d of age when pups were partially weaned. The major iron transporters in the small intestine divalent metal-ion transporter 1 (DMT1) and ferroportin were not affected by pup iron status at 10 d of age but were strongly affected by iron status at 20 d of age. Thus, mechanisms that regulate iron homeostasis are developed at the time of weaning. Overall, studies in human infants and experimental animals suggest that iron homeostasis is absent or limited early in infancy largely because of a lack of regulation of the iron transporters DMT1 and ferroportin.


children; infant; iron; iron absorption; iron homeostasis; iron status

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