Iron Deficiency in Children
Iron is absolutely vital to the health and development of your child. Without sufficient levels of functioning and stored iron, cognitive and physical growth is hindered and lifelong consequences may develop. As with nearly all minerals, there are various factors affecting the bioavailability of dietary iron. In order to better understand the absorption of iron, it is necessary to understand the mineral itself, and how it is utilized by the body.
When we breathe in, oxygen flows into our lungs. Our heart pumps blood to and from our lungs, where red blood cells containing hemoglobin bind the oxygen molecules. Red blood cells circulate throughout the body, providing necessary oxygen to our muscles, brain, vital organs, etc.
Without enough iron, our red blood cells will not produce sufficient hemoglobin to adequately bind oxygen and carry it throughout the body. Not only will our bodies lack hemoglobin, but without iron, our bone marrow will be unable to produce effective red blood cells.
Low iron symptoms and iron deficient anemia
We low iron levels go unchecked we can develop iron deficient anemia and experience a host of unpleasant side effects, including:
- Mood swings
- Dermatologic manifestations
- Bleeding problems
Iron is especially important to children because of their periods of rapid growth. The expansion of bones, blood volume, muscles, skin, internal organs and neurological changes require large stores of iron to support growth. It is important to support your child’s development by providing a healthy, well balanced diet rich in minerals and nutrients.
Dietary iron is the preferred form of iron in children and adults. There are two forms of dietary iron:
- Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry, and fish and about a third of the heme iron in meats is absorbed into the body.
- Non-heme iron is a plant based source and about 10 percent is absorbed by the body. In children with a deficiency, up to 40 percent of non-heme iron from plant sources is retained.
While it is clear that meat based iron sources provide iron that is more easily absorbed by the body, plant iron is accompanied by numerous vitamins and minerals not found in meats. It is advisable to provide a well-rounded diet rich in vitamins and minerals for your child.
Between the ages of 5 and the teen years, most children who eat a healthy diet and are otherwise healthy do not develop iron deficiencies. However, menstruating teen girls and teens of both sexes require increased iron intake in order to thrive during puberty. Iron deficiency and iron deficient anemia are especially common in teen girls, and supplementing dietary iron is recommended for those with low iron levels.
Even with a well-rounded diet, some children are still iron deficient. Your child’s pediatrician should be kept abreast of any developments in your child’s condition, including the presentation of symptoms indicative of an iron deficiency.
These may include:
- Decreased intellectual performance
- Pale skin around the lips, inside walls of the mouth and gums
If iron deficiency affects your child, your pediatrician will most likely prescribe an iron supplement with dosing of up to 45 mg per day.
Iron supplementation is a very effective means of correcting an iron deficiency in children. Supplementation with traditional iron tablets or liquids may cause side effects or taste unpleasant. In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 86.7% of the doctors reported that unpleasant taste is a major cause of non-compliance. However, a powdered iron supplement such as
- Beard JL. Why iron deficiency is important in infant development. J Nutr. 2008;138(12):2534-2536. doi:10.1093/jn/138.12.2534