The AAP recommends iron-fortified foods for babies: Is it really safe?
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) advises doctors to recommend that parents feed their baby iron-fortified formula and iron-fortified cereal between the ages of 6 to 24 months old.1
Because it’s fermented, Super Spirulina Plus is naturally rich in easy-to-digest vitamins and minerals: This includes iron. Use it as a gut-friendly supplement for babies starting solids, toddlers, children, and grown-ups.
This is because:
- Iron is absolutely necessary for the adequate movement of oxygen to all the tissues in your body.
- Iron helps to form hemoglobin, which is the oxygen transport system in your blood.
- It’s also necessary to prevent anemia.
If you exclusively breastfeed your child, then it’s recommended that you begin giving your baby iron supplementation in the form of liquid drops at the age of 4 months.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends this because breast milk is naturally low in iron. Breast milk also contains iron chelators, which bind to iron and reduce even further the amount of free iron available to your baby.
FACT: Iron supplementation may damage the inner ecology of the body.
As it turns out, research shows that iron-rich foods for babies may promote the growth of intestinal bugs.2 Not only that, but the consumption of iron-fortified foods during infancy may alter the environment of the gut and affect overall immune function.3
The AAP recommends iron supplementation. However, if you do a little digging, you’ll find that they also tell us that:
- Infants that are fed iron-fortified formula or who are given supplemental iron drops have a high amount of Escherichia coli in their stools.3,4
- The E. coli present in the stools of babies that receive supplemental iron is significantly higher than exclusively breastfed infants.4
- Exclusively breastfed infants who receive no iron supplementation have predominately Lactobacillus (a friendly bacteria) in their stools.5
E. coli is a bug that is naturally present in the gut. Under the right conditions, it can quickly grow out of control and become pathogenic. An iron-rich environment in the gut helps to set up an ideal breeding place for opportunistic bacteria, like E. coli.
Iron-rich foods for babies may make a bad infection worse.
Even the body knows that iron levels play a big role in bacterial infection. Iron plays such an important role that during an infection, the body will literally make extra effort to stow away any free iron. This process, called iron withholding, happens in response to any kind of infection.
The body tucks away as much free iron as it can because bad bacteria love iron and need it to thrive, just like we do. This means that if there is more iron in the gut, whether from iron drops or fortified baby food, this could actually help to promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
One study found that in children with compromised immune function or in children with malarial disease, iron supplementation actually led to an increase in mortality rates.6
During the first few days of life, an infant’s gut is entirely permeable, and this is what nature intended. Newborns have naturally permeable guts in order to educate the immune system, which largely sits just beneath the intestinal tract. In fact, an infant’s gut may not seal completely for several weeks after birth. This is why breast milk plays such a critical role in helping prevent immune-related diseases.
Breast milk educates the child’s immune system, while also prompting the gut to seal at a normal rate. Formula-fed infants not only house a higher percentage of opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli, but it also takes a longer amount of time for the gut to close completely.
Got questions about how to naturally support your family’s health? Reach out and schedule a one-on-one consultation.
When it comes to iron-rich foods for babies, did you know that?
- When a baby consumes foods fortified with iron, such as formula or cereal, only 5 percent of the iron in these foods is absorbed from the gut.7,8
- On the other hand, 50 percent of the iron found in breast milk is absorbed by the baby’s intestinal tract.9,10
When a child consumes iron-fortified foods and only absorbs 5 percent iron, this leaves a large percentage of iron in the gut. Pathogenic bugs in the gut need iron as much as we do, and this extra iron will actually feed gut infection.
Nature has an intelligence beyond the education and research of medical doctors. In infants, the body naturally limits the amount of iron that it has access to.
This is why:
- Breast milk is naturally low in iron.
- Breast milk contains iron chelators.
- There are minimal amounts of free iron available in an infant’s gut.
Delayed cord clamping — another natural, intuitive practice — has also been shown to help prevent newborn iron deficiency by the time a baby is 4 months old.11,12
This doesn’t mean that a baby’s first foods can’t be iron-rich. But in spite of popular recommendations, iron-fortified grains and cereal can do more harm than good. Besides the fact that we absorb far less iron from fortified foods, both grains and cereals contain proteins that commonly irritate the lining of the gut. This exposes the body to potential immune disorders and gut infection.
If your baby has moved onto solids, choose iron-rich foods for babies that naturally fortify the diet.
An excellent source of iron for toddlers and adults alike is Body Ecology’s Super Spirulina Plus:
- Super Spirulina Plus contains 50 percent fermented spirulina.
- Spirulina is naturally rich in iron, as well as all of the essential amino acids.
- By fermenting spirulina, it becomes far more bioavailable and helps deliver beneficial microbes to the intestinal tract.
Keep in mind that in many traditional practices, a baby’s very first food is liver or egg yolk, both of which are high in iron. When choosing your child’s first foods, avoid iron-fortified grains and cereals. Instead, experiment with foods that are already rich in iron, as nature intended.
- 1. Wyckoff, Alyson. “Nutritional needs of infants, toddlers part of new Dietary Guidelines.” AAP News, 2020.
- 2. Yilmaz B, Li H. Gut Microbiota and Iron: The Crucial Actors in Health and Disease. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2018;11(4):98. Published 2018 Oct 5. doi:10.3390/ph11040098.
- 3. Paganini D, Uyoga MA, Zimmermann MB. Iron Fortification of Foods for Infants and Children in Low-Income Countries: Effects on the Gut Microbiome, Gut Inflammation, and Diarrhea. Nutrients. 2016;8(8):494. Published 2016 Aug 12. doi:10.3390/nu8080494.
- 4. Paganini D, Zimmermann MB. The effects of iron fortification and supplementation on the gut microbiome and diarrhea in infants and children: a review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(Suppl 6):1688S-1693S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.156067.
- 5. Bullen, JJ., et al. Iron-Binding Proteins in Milk and Resistance To E. Coli Infection in Infants. British Medical Journal. 1972; 1: 69.
- 6. Oppenheimer, Stephen J. Iron and Its Relation To Immunity and Infectious Disease. Journal of Nutrition. 2001; 131: 616S – 635s.
- 7. Magnus Domellöf, Bo Lönnerdal, Steven A Abrams, Olle Hernell, Iron absorption in breast-fed infants: effects of age, iron status, iron supplements, and complementary foods, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 76, Issue 1, July 2002, Pages 198–204, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/76.1.198.
- 8. Qasem, W. A., & Friel, J. K. (2015). An Overview of Iron in Term Breast-Fed Infants. Clinical medicine insights. Pediatrics, 9, 79–84. https://doi.org/10.4137/CMPed.S26572.
- 9. Saarinen, U. M., Siimes, M. A., & Dallman, P. R. (1977). Iron absorption in infants: high bioavailability of breast milk iron as indicated by the extrinsic tag method of iron absorption and by the concentration of serum ferritin. The Journal of pediatrics, 91(1), 36–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-3476(77)80439-3.
- 10. Abrams, S. A., Wen, J., & Stuff, J. E. (1997). Absorption of calcium, zinc, and iron from breast milk by five- to seven-month-old infants. Pediatric research, 41(3), 384–390. https://doi.org/10.1203/00006450-199703000-00014.
- 11. Ola Andersson, Lena Hellström-Westas, Dan Andersson, Magnus Domellöf. Effect of delayed versus early umbilical cord clamping on neonatal outcomes and iron status at 4 months: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 2011; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d7157.
- 12. Patrick van Rheenen. Delayed cord clamping and improved infant outcomes. BMJ, 2011; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d7127.