Collaborations in Research: Treatments for Iron Deficiency Anemia

Published on July 31, 2017 by Dr. Traj Nibber

Spotlight on: University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Iron deficiency and the associated anemia continue to be a public health problem in the world with an estimated 3.5 billion people suffering from one form of iron-deficiency problem or the other. Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is particularly problematic during pregnancy and can lead to various health problems for the mother and the baby (especially fetal growth retardation), during or post-delivery. 

 In children, IDA continues to be a major health challenge due to under nutrition or malnutrition and can cause negative effects on growth, motor and cognitive development as well as compromised immune function. It is believed that IDA in some children actually contributes to poor academic performance in school.

One novel approach is to provide iron-containing supplements to boost bioavailability and replace unavailable dietary iron. While inorganic iron sources have constituted the main type of supplement, there is a better alternative in using organic iron sources that have better potential for boosting plasma iron levels and prevent development of IDA. Ferritin is a well-known organic form of iron that can be isolated from plant sources for use as an ingredient in the manufacture of iron-containing nutraceutical supplements.

Based on the global problem of IDA, there is a ready market for plant-derived ferritin (phytoferritin), especially to replace currently used inorganic iron supplements. This is because the negative symptoms (e.g., constipation and diarrhea) that have been associated with the use of inorganic iron supplements is believed to cause a high rate of non-compliance with iron therapy, which leads to increased intensity of the anemia and associated health symptoms. Various clinical trials have shown that oral consumption of ferritin does not produce intense negative symptoms as inorganic iron supplements. Therefore, there is high potential for compliance with therapeutic dose if ferritin is used as a supplement to prevent IDA. The expected high compliance rate coupled with the therapeutic efficiency could make ferritin a highly sought after supplement in the health industry.

While there are animal sources of ferritin (heme) such as spleen, 

  liver, and lactoferrin (a milk protein), plant products (non-heme ferritin) are cheaper to produce and meet the requirements of for vegetarians and people who do not consume animal products due to religious or traditional values. Thus, the necessity to research phyto-ferritin is substantial.

Dr Rotimi Aluko and his team at the University of Manitoba have begun to develop a proprietary process for extracting phyto-ferritin. Human studies are planned to demonstrate efficacy compared to traditional over the counter iron products that use inorganic forms such as ferrous sulphate.

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