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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 continued...

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.

In 1999, the AAP's Committee on Nutrition even raised the minimum recommended level of iron in infant formulas.

"The extremely high doses of iron fed to the mice in this study are at least 60 times as much as consumed in iron-fortified infant formulas on a weight-adjusted basis, and the form of iron is not the iron used in infant formula," she tells WebMD.

"The study by the Buck Institute is an iron study, and not an infant formula study, and it is not relevant to infant feeding," Salcines says. ... "The AAP continues to recommend iron-fortified infant formula as the only safe and nutritious alternative to mother's milk."

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