Iron and trace element nutrition of infants and toddlers

B. Lönnerdal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Iron. Supplementation with iron to prevent iron deficiency is essential from the age of 3 to 4 months and 6 months in the case of breastfed infants. Iron supplements are recommended for formulas, but there is still controversy regarding the optimum amount. At the age when dietary supplements are given, iron-enriched formulas and supplements support a good iron status. Where cow's milk is fed, iron-enriched supplements prevent hypoferric anemia but not iron deficiency. Hypoferric anemia in infants can lead to irreversible impairment of psychomotor development. In developing countries, efforts are being made to reduce the high prevalence of hypoferric anemia by enriching everyday foods with iron. Zinc. The bioavailability of zinc in mother's milk is greater than in formulas and it is greater in predominantly whey-protein formulas, than in predominantly casein formulas. Cereals are rich in zinc but contain phytate which inhibits zinc absorption. The addition of milk improves this. Infants over 6 months old frequently have a sub-optimum zinc status. Zinc deficiency can inhibit growth and immune function. Copper: Copper deficiency seldom occurs in term infants, but is more common in pre-term infants, because of their low reserves, particularly when they are fed formula. Severe copper deficiency leads to iron-refractory anemia, while marginal copper deficiency may only lead to impairment of the immune functions and is difficult to diagnose. Copper is better absorbed from mother's milk than from cow's milk and from the latter better than from soya formulas. High iron contents in infant milks may reduce copper absorption. From the age when supplements are given, the copper supply from cereals and other copper-rich foods meets requirements. Manganese. Manganese deficiency does not occur in infants and toddlers. The possibility is more likely that excessive amounts are given in formula diets. Iron deficiency enhances manganese absorption, while iron medication inhibits it. Selenium. The selenium content of food, including mother's milk and formulae, depends on the selenium content of the soil and water. Selenium is a constituent part of biologically active selenoproteins, such as glutathione peroxidase and deiodinase. As a peroxide-reducing catalyst, glutathione peroxidase contributes towards the anti-oxidative defence of the cell. Pre-term babies appear to have a more inferior selenium status as compared to term infants. The selenium enrichment of infant milks appears to be logical, but our knowledge of selenium metabolism is limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMonatsschrift fur Kinderheilkunde
Issue number10 SUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Oct 1996


  • anti-oxidative defence
  • bioavailability
  • cereals
  • copper deficiency
  • growth, copper
  • hypoferric anemia
  • infants and babies
  • iron
  • iron refractory anemia
  • iron-enriched infant milk and supplement
  • no deficiency, selenium
  • phytate
  • pre-term babies
  • pre-term infants
  • prevention
  • selenium enrichment of formulas
  • selenoproteins
  • soil/water
  • sub-optimum zinc status
  • supplement, manganese
  • term infants
  • zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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