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Study Finds Babies of Obese Mothers Have Iron Deficiency

Update Date: Mar 18, 2013 09:50 AM EDT

Obesity has been linked to causing several health complications and diseases, and now, researchers have added another major consequence of being overweight. According to a new research study, obese mothers have a higher risk of giving birth to children with iron deficiency. Iron is a vital mineral that helps with the development of the central nervous system. The study was conduced by researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts and Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center.

The researchers recruited 30 pregnant women, half of them were considered to be obese. Throughout the second trimester, the researches measured and recorded the iron and hepcidin levels of the mothers. The researchers followed up by measuring the iron levels of the infants through their umbilical cord blood. They found that obese pregnant mothers had signs of inflammation and higher levels of hepcidin. Consequently, their newborns had lower levels of iron in comparison to the newborns of the mothers that were not obese. Children who suffer from iron deficiency have an increased risk for delays in motor and cognitive development.

Obesity has often been associated with low-grade, chronic inflammation. Although inflammation is a natural response that helps the body heal, chronic inflammation is considered abnormal. Chronic inflammation can raise the levels of hepcidin in the body due to the presence of extra fat. Hepcidin is a hormone responsible for balancing iron levels and too much of it can dramatically lower iron levels in the blood.

"When there is excess hepcidin in a cell, it binds to and inhibits the function of ferroportin the protein that allows iron to pass through the cell membrane and into the bloodstream," the senior author, Professor Simin Nikbin Meydani stated. Meydani is also the director of the HNRCA and its Nutritional Immunology Laboratory. The first authors of the study were doctoral student, Maria Carlota Dao, and assistant professor at Tufts School of Medicine, Sarbattama Sen.

The recommendation for daily iron intake for pregnant women is 27 milligrams. The researchers stated that although this study found iron deficiency in the offspring of obese mothers, more research still needs to be done before women start aimlessly increasing their iron intake and that everyone should continue to stick to the daily-recommended amount.

The study was published in the Journal of Perinatology

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