The November Science Cafe will be tomorrow, November 26, at 7pm, in the Community Room of the Pittsford Plaza Barnes and Noble. Refreshments, as always, will be provided.
"Iron deficiency: a silent threat to fetal brain development"
Dr. Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D.
Professor Biomedical Genetics, Neurobiology, and Anatomy
University of Rochester
Multiple risk factors compromise the ability of children to attain their maximal potential, including their cognitive abilities. Among such risk factors is iron deficiency, the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Iron deficiency is particularly frequent during pregnancy and afflicts 50% of pregnant women. Contrary to common perception, iron deficiency - especially during pregnancy - is caused not just by inadequate or delayed iron supplementation but is often a result of impaired iron absorption. Many factors interfere with iron absorption, including diabetes, obesity, celiac and Crohn’s diseases, exposure to polyphenols and pthalates found in tea and coffee, high levels of calcium and exposure to environmental lead.
Iron deficiency during pregnancy is often only noticed because it compromises the overall well being of the pregnant mother. However, its major and far more dangerous impact is on the developing fetus with the serious consequence of impairing fetal brain maturation. This impaired maturation can result in altered behavior, emotional disturbances and learning disability and low IQ. While these impairments are now appreciated and well documented in both humans and animal models iron supplementation of both the mother (which normally does not occur until the third trimester) and the/or the offspring remain ineffective in preventing these neuronal impairments.
Our work has been dedicated over the last decade to understanding how maternal iron deficiency impacts the neurological development of children and why current therapeutic strategies have such a low success rate. In light of a new population based study on over 2000 children and adolescents that showed a clear association between psychiatric disorders and iron deficiency, there is a great urgency in providing information and awareness of the problem and in providing new insights of how to effectively stop the burden of iron deficiency on future generations.