Researchers are studying teeth to understand the long-term effects of iron exposure in infancy to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s later in life.
A new study reports on dental biomarker technology that distinguishes breast-fed babies from formula fed babies. Using these biomarkers, scientists are able to study the link between early iron exposure and late-life brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, both of which are associated with abnormal processing of iron.
Formula feeding doesn’t always lead to neurodegeneration in adulthood, but the the combination of increased iron intake during infancy coupled with genetic predisposition to impaired metal metabolism may explain how iron-fortified formulas could cause damage for some babies as they age into adulthood.
Researchers advocate for individual measures of iron supplementation, as formula manufacturers have been encouraged to fortify their formulas in ways that aren’t necessary for all–or even most–average-weight babies. The question as to whether overfortification of iron might lead to neurodegeneration later in life remains. Using biomarkers in the teeth, researchers will continue to monitor the possibility that iron exposure early in life could lead to neurodegenerative disease later into adulthood.