January 2009 Archives

January 27, 2009

Excess Iron in Baby Formula Lowers Child IQ?

filed under: General Baby Health
This posting isn't about choline, but rather on the general topic of how vitamins consumed by children may impact intelligence.  A news item in Medscape.com last May seems to have gotten much less press than I would have thought.  The news item claims:

"Healthy, well-nourished children fed iron-fortified formula as infants scored an average of 11 points lower on IQ tests at 10 years of age than similar children fed low-iron formula, investigators announced here at PAS 2008, the Pediatric Academic Societies and Asian Society for Pediatric Research Joint Meeting."

I checked out the iron levels of all the major baby formulas on the market (Similac, Enfamil and Good Start hold about a 75% market share research suggests) - are all classified as "high iron" in accordance with the metrics of this research study.  Each of these baby formulas has about 1.8 mg/5 ounce serving, or 12 mg/Liter of iron.

Makes you wonder if the US is systematically dumbing down its children with the popularity of high-iron formula in this country. Low-iron formulas are actually pretty hard to find. Similac does produce one called Similac 60/40 - so a formula like this might be be best until more research is done, and new formulations of the popular formulas are done.

Interestingly, in Europe - the iron levels of the baby formulas (called "Baby Milk" in the UK) is about half what it is in the USA baby formulas.  Given the regulatory breakdowns in the US during the past few years (e.g. the failings of the SEC and government to limit the fraud and risk taking in the financial markets) I don't have much faith that the FDA has done even a passable job during the past 8 years of deregulation.  And we wonder why US children are doing so poorly in schools...

Given this bit of news - I've researched the available UK formulas - and the top baby formulas there (SMA Gold, Cow and Gate, and Aptamil ) all have around 5.3 mg/ Liter of Iron - compared to the US average of about 12 mg / liter. Note: on the US formula product packaging the iron level is identified as 1.8 mg/5 ounce serving (or 100 calories) - but to get the per Liter total - you need to multiply the 1.8 grams by 6.8 (there are 33 ounces in a liter, and so you multiply the 5 ounce measure by 6.8 to get the total of 12 mg in 33 ounce, or 1 liter). 

I am now ordering a sample of these UK formulas because my wife's breast milk is decreasing since returning to work - and we need to start using formula. I think I'll try this web site: British Supermarket Worldwide.

Related Reading:

Iron Supplements Might Harm Infants Who Have Enough, Study Suggests  (Science Daily)

Read the full news article on Medscape: Neurodevelopmental Delays Associated With Iron-Fortified Formula for Healthy Infants (May, 2008)

January 23, 2009

American Journal of Nutrition - New Papers on Choline and Pregnancy

filed under: Choline Benefits Prenatal Choline Research Study
This month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had a number of new papers on the topic of pregnancy and choline consumption.

The paper seems to be an effort by Dr. Zeisel, professor at the University of North Carolina, to help increase the visibility of Choline with other researchers.

In the paper, Dr. Zeisel notes:

"Evidence is growing that optimal dietary intake of folate and choline (both involved in one-carbon transfer or methylation) is important for successful completion of fetal development. Significant portions of the population are eating diets low in one or both of these nutrients.

Folates are important for normal neural tube closure in early gestation, and the efficacy of diet fortification with folic acid in reducing the incidence of neural tube defects is a major success story for public health nutrition. Similarly, maternal dietary choline is important for normal neural tube closure in the fetus and, later in gestation, for neurogenesis in the fetal hippocampus, with effects on memory that persist in adult offspring; higher choline intake is associated with enhanced memory performance."

Importantly, he notes, there is a wide variation in the amount of choline that people have in their diet (typically a variation of 3 to 4 fold)  and that in several studies it has been shown that  25% of women got less than the 6.7 mg/kg levels that are considered minimal.  Add to this the fact that different genetic makeup of people, means that different people need different levels of choline - and as of yet, there is no way to test for these genetic variations (or SNPs) - so its impossible for a person to know if they are getting enough (or their baby is getting enough) choline.

In the paper, Dr. Zeisel notes that "Changes in dietary availability of methyl groups induces stable changes in gene methylation, altering gene expression and resulting phenotype...Many of the changes in neurogenesis (the improved memory, etc.) caused by altered availability of dietary choline or folate during pregnancy are probably mediated by altered DNA methylation."

Interestingly, recent research has shown that "stress" that mammals (including humans) is a very effective at de-methylating DNA - and this is believed to be one of the leading contributors to mental illness - because the de-methylation exposes unhealthy genes that are the ultimate cause of a significant portion of the cases of mental illness.

I expect to see much more research in the area of how choline and other methy-donor supplementation during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of mental illness later in life.  As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, data from rodent studies and choline are already showing that this seems to be the case.  

In a second paper in this issue of the journal, Dr. Zeisel poses the question of whether supplementation for women of key brain-related nutrients like Choline is something that should be considered more. 

As he states:

"during perinatal development in which specific nutrients are required for optimal development, and there is growing evidence that optimal dietary intake of these nutrients, which include iodine, docosahexaenoic acid, choline, and folate, is important. ... For some of the nutrients discussed, such as iodine and folate, the effects in humans are abundantly clear; for others, animal data are the most convincing. More human studies need to be conducted."

My understanding is that human studies are currently underway for choline and prenatal supplementation.  One researcher I had lunch with noted that its his belief (and he's been researching choline for the past decade) is that EVERY woman should supplement with as much choline as she can.  He thought the research (which now numbers over 40 studies on the impact of Choline on the brain, done over the past 25 years) was already that compelling (and I tend to agree with him).  He was also disappointed with the pace of research being done in this area, as it seems to be the one of the most important areas of nutritional and prenatal development today.

Other researchers are much more cautious - as Dr. Zeisel noted at the end of the paper:

"It is clear that the dietary manipulation of methyl donors (either deficiency or supplementation) can have a profound effect on reproductive outcome through epigenetic mechanisms. For this reason, it is important that expert panels carefully consider recommendations for dietary intake of methyl donors during pregnancy."
See the research papers here:

Importance of methyl donors during reproduction (Steven Zeisel), American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Is maternal diet supplementation beneficial? Optimal development of infant depends on mother's diet

(Steven Zeisel), American Journal of Clinical Nutrition