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Risk of Parkinsons and linked speech problems rises with high iron intake

Wednesday 8th February 2017
Reducing babies iron intake may lower their risk of Parkinsons disease and associated speech problems in later life. Image: happy_lark via iStock
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Reducing the amount of iron in infants' diets could help to lower their risk of developing Parkinson's disease and associated speech problems in later life, new research suggests.

A study carried out by doctors based at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne indicates that the severe symptoms of Parkinson's - which include a decline in the ability to communicate through speech - could be avoided if babies are exposed to less iron in their early years.

Study author Dr Dominic Hare explained to the Sydney Morning Herald: "We looked at the numbers of people dying with Parkinson's disease in high-income countries like the US, the UK, Sweden and Australia that introduced iron fortification of foods like flour in the 1930s. The rationale was that it would reduce widespread anaemia, including in babies and children.

"We've gathered evidence that 60 years on, there's a spike in mortality from Parkinson's disease in those countries that's continuing to grow."

Extra iron was added to baby milk formula in the UK 80 or so years ago in a bid to reduce the risk of infants developing anaemia. However, now that these individuals have reached old age, cases of Parkinson's disease are increasing among older people.

On the one hand, this may simply be due to people living for longer on average, which naturally means more people will require the services of speech therapists and other medical professionals as they become ill with degenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease and other forms of dementia.

But on the other hand, doctors believe there is a link between this extra iron intake in their early years and their health in later life.

With this in mind, the study authors are calling for children who need additional iron to be given it in a more natural form such as through spinach or lean meat rather than in an artificial fortified way. They hope that this will see the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease fall in the future, with fewer individuals experiencing difficulties communicating through speech as a result.

Written by Martin Lambert

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