Ironing out iron

The daily dose of iron pill intake to regain health has of late been questioned by researchers

Published: Thursday 30 November 1995

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)IT is quite a common practice to pop in iron tablets to regain that glow of health. The efficacy of such iron supplementation has been questioned lately, due to a dismal record of its treating iron cleficiency. Researchers set out to find ways to improve iron supplementation programme, and one proposal was to reduce the frequency of administering iron tablets from daily to twice-a-week schedule. A report published in The Lancel, Vol 346, No 8975, however, concludes that the effectiveness of daily and intermittent iron administration schedules is no different.

This is significant as more than a quarter of the world's population suffers from iron deficiency anaerma and related ailments. While the developed world has risen to combat this menace by resortingto iron fortification of food, developing nations have settled down to liberal distribution of iron tablets. This is because, it is difficult to identify a foodstuff that is centrally processed and widely consumed in the developing nations.

Research showed that iron absorption by the intestines is inhibited on account of its daily dosage. This conclusion was derived from studies conducted on rats. Reduction in frequency of iron administration should enhance absorption, felt scientists. So, an innoNation was proposed where iron dosage would be reduced from daily to weekly basis. This would also circumvent gas-truintestinal side-effects of iron doses.

flowever, W Schultink and his colleagues, on evaluating the efficacy of intermittent iron supplementation recently, found that such optimism is baseless. Eighty-seven haemoglobin deficient children, in the age group of two to five years from Eastern Jakarta in Indonesia, were selected. After initial treatment to remove intestinal worms, these children were administered 30 mg iron as liquid ferrous sulphate randomly, either daily or twice weekly for two months. The researchers found that the effectiveness of daily and intermittent administration schedules in increasing haernoglobin concentration was equal.

Scientists are of the opinion that the heavy investment in developing countries into research to assess the efficacy of intermittent iron supplementation schedules is useless. With more than 20 studies in progress in this direction, this suggestion surely is significant. Further, they suggest that a better way to circunivent gastrointestinal side-effects of iron would be to use formulations that delay iron release in the stomach, or to reduce the daily dose of iron.

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