New iron supplement for pregnant women

A world first study has found a potential new iron supplement for pregnant women may reduce some of the side effects associated with existing treatments.

Iron deficiency is a common condition in pregnancy – up to two thirds of pregnant women need iron supplements.

Iron deficiency can lead to serious complications such as:

  • obesity
  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes

There are however some debilitating side effects associated with iron supplements, including abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and diarrhoea. There is also growing evidence it negatively impacts a patient’s gut microbiome which creates other health issues.

“We found iron hydroxide adipate tartrate (IHAT) a promising new iron supplement for pregnant women. It was just as safe and effective at boosting iron levels, but with fewer adverse side effects,” Ms Helman said.

QIMR Berghofer PHD student Sheridan Helman, who led the study, said the existing iron sulfate treatments can cause such severe side-effects that up to half of all pregnant women stop taking them.

During her first pregnancy Pramila Maniam was iron deficient and didn’t understand why she was constantly feeling fatigued.

“I used to get brain fog and thought it was normal. By my third pregnancy I was taking iron supplements. I knew how important they were, but I often had bloating and constipation and felt terrible, so I would take the tablets every second day and the symptoms would improve,” she said.

“It is very common to be iron deficient and you really notice the difference when your iron levels are what they should be. It would be really good though if there were no side effects,” Pramila said.

The Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Molecular Nutrition Laboratory, Associate Professor David Frazer, said the next step is trials in pregnant women.

“The IHAT treatment is exciting because we’ve found there are less side effects, less stress on the body, and less damage to the microbiome of the gut.” Associate Professor Frazer said.

The findings of the study could have broader benefits with at least 10 per cent of Australian women likely to be deficient in iron.

The IHAT supplement was co-invented by Cambridge University’s Professor Jonathan Powell who collaborated with QIMR Berghofer’s Molecular Nutrition Laboratory to test its efficacy. Pharmaceutical company Nemysis owns the right to develop IHAT.