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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Infant Formula, Parkinson's Tie Probed

Research in Mice Finds Iron in Infancy May Increase Risk Later in Life

Rethinking Iron Exposure

Andersen and colleagues at the California-based Buck Institute agingaging research center fed young mice the equivalent amount of iron that a formula-fed baby would get in his first year of life, according to the study. They then treated the mice with a Parkinson's-inducing drug and followed them as they aged. The researchers found the mice displayed more Parkinson's-like neurological changes in their brains than mice not fed the additional iron.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, and it was funded, in part, by a grant from the National institutes of Health.

The average amount of iron in iron-fortified infant formula is much higher than that found in human breast milk. But the iron in breast milk is more easily absorbed. In addition, iron supplementation is generally recommended for breastfed babies to prevent iron deficiency-related developmental problems.

Andersen says it is clear that iron supplementation is needed early in life. But she adds that if studies in humans also suggest early life iron exposure can increase the risk for neurological disease late in life, infant nutritionnutrition experts may need to rethink how much iron babies should get.

"We recognize that this work is in mice, not humans," she says. "We're not saying not to supplement infant formulas with iron but perhaps the levels need to be adjusted."

J. William Langston, MD, of the Parkinson's Institute, says the new research could prove to be a groundbreaking advance in our understanding of this neurological disease.

"We really have very few models to study early exposure to toxins as a risk factor for late-life diseases such as Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease," he says.

Formula Makers Respond

In an interview Thursday, a spokeswoman for the infant formula industry says the new study has little relevance for infant feeding.

Mice in the study consumed much more iron than babies get from formula, despite the researchers' claims to the contrary, says Marisa Salcines, of the International Formula Council.

She notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron-fortified infant formula for babies that are not exclusively breastfed.

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