Dr. Oz Reveals Natural Sources of One Prenatal Nutrient for a Bigger, Better Baby

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Researchers have recently discovered that there is an association between anemia―a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body―in women and giving birth to low birth weight babies. The results of this discovery are published in this month’s issue of the British Medical Journal that tells women that 66 mg of iron a day is optimal for fetal development.

According to the authors of the study, iron deficiency is the most widespread nutritional deficiency facing women worldwide―especially in impoverished countries and inner cities where good prenatal care and nutritious foods are not readily available.

Previous research involving anemia in women has focused on an association between blood iron levels and premature births. However, data thus far has not drawn a conclusive cause and effect link between the two. But what has been determined is that pregnant women who take supplemental iron daily have a decreased risk of giving birth to a low birth weight infant and an increased likelihood of having a healthy sized baby.

From a study involving nearly two million women and consisting of a systematic review and meta-analysis of over 90 earlier studies that were focused on prenatal iron consumption and prenatal anemia, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that:

• Iron use increased a mother's average hemoglobin levels compared with controls.

• Iron use significantly reduced the risk of anemia.

• Iron use did not decrease the risk of giving birth to a preterm infant.

• There is a significantly higher risk of low birth weight in mothers who were anemic during the first or second trimester of pregnancy.

• For every 10 mg increase in iron dose per day (up to 66 mg per day), the risk of maternal anemia was 12% lower, birth weight increased by 15 grams, and risk of low birth weight decreased by 3%.

A press release issued by the British Medical Journal states that:

"Our findings suggest that use of iron in women during pregnancy may be used as a preventive strategy to improve maternal hematological status and birth weight," say the authors. They call for "rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of existing antenatal care programs in high burden countries to identify gaps in policy and program implementation."

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The authors of the study concluded that future research should explore the feasibility of increasing iron levels during pregnancy by prescribing ferrous (iron) sulfate supplements. However, they note that not all women tolerate iron supplements very well―many suffer from side effects such as constipation, indigestion and bloating. A more palatable and digestible solution would be to incorporate a healthy diet rich in iron.

In a past episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz and special guest Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, a sports nutrition consultant to The New York Knicks, The Juilliard School, The School of American Ballet and Fordham University tells viewers that they don’t need to resort to getting their iron from supplemental pills that can cause havoc with your digestive system. Rather, that getting your needed iron naturally through eating the right kinds of foods is a healthier choice that can benefit you—and your developing baby.

According to Ms. Skolnik, people can get their iron and build up their body stores of it through two natural sources—select meats and plants.

Her recommendation for meat is to tackle the lean meats such as lean beef, chicken livers, and clams.

“Meat is actually absorbed 2-3 times more easily than plant-based irons,” says Ms. Skolnik. “Clams is one those surprising foods that are high in iron…it can be a canned clam sauce that you put on your pasta. It’s really the idea of swapping out lower iron foods for higher iron foods.”

However, if meat is not your thing, then the good news is that there are several plant-based sources of iron rich-foods. Some of which include:

• Soybeans such as edamame
• Spinach
• Broccoli
• Fortified cereals and oatmeal
• Dried fruit like raisins and apricots

Ms. Skolnik also tells viewers that to get the most out of the iron in your food, eating some iron-rich foods in combination with Vitamin C-rich foods can get the iron in your body faster. Her recommendations of food combos include:

• High vitamin C foods like red bell peppers eaten with spinach
• Tomatoes (another source of vitamin C) with broccoli
• Lemons and/or limes with edamame

Another tip Ms. Skolnik and Dr. Oz offer for getting more iron in your diet is to cook wet dishes such as pasta sauce in an iron skillet. During the cooking, iron will actually leach out of the pan and into your meal and can increase your iron level by as much as 3 fold.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

References:

“Daily iron during pregnancy improves birth weight” BMJ 2013; 346:f3997 (June 21, 2013); Jacqui Wise et al.

The Dr. Oz Show: “Iron-Rich Diet Tips to Fight Fatigue”

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