Effects of iron and omega-3 supplementation on the immune system of iron deficient children in South Africa : a randomised controlled trial
Background Iron deficiency (ID) is the world‟s most prevalent micronutrient deficiency and predominantly affects developing countries, also South Africa. In areas with low fish consumption and high n-6 PUFA vegetable oil intake, there is a risk for having inadequate n-3 PUFA status. Both iron and n-3 PUFA play important roles in the immune response, and supplementation is a strategy to alleviate deficiencies. However, little is known about potential interactive effects between concurrent iron and n-3 PUFA supplementation on the immune system. This is also important in the context that iron supplementation may be unsafe and may increase morbidity and mortality. Aim The overall aim of this thesis was to assess the effects of iron and docosahexaenoic (DHA)/eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) supplementation, alone and in combination, on the immune system of ID children. More specifically, these effects were investigated on the occurrence and duration of illness and school-absenteeism due to illness, peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC), red blood cell (RBC) and plasma total phospholipid fatty acid composition, iron status, fatty acid-derived immune modulators and targeted PBMC gene expression. Furthermore, association of PBMC, RBC and plasma total phospholipid fatty acid composition with allergic disease, were also examined. Design In a 2-by-2 factorial, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, South African children (n = 321, aged 6–11 y) were randomly assigned to receive oral supplements of either 1) iron (50 mg as ferrous sulphate) plus placebo; 2) DHA/EPA (420/80 mg) plus placebo; 3) iron plus DHA/EPA (420/80 mg); or 4) placebo plus placebo for 8.5 mo, four times per week. Absenteeism and illness symptoms were recorded and biochemical parameters for compliance as well as parameters fundamental to immune function were assessed at baseline and endpoint. Furthermore, in a cross-sectional design, associations of allergic disease with baseline fatty acid composition of PBMC, RBC and plasma were examined. Results The combination of iron and DHA/EPA significantly attenuated respiratory illness caused by iron supplementation. DHA/EPA supplementation alone improved respiratory symptoms at school, but increased headache-related absenteeism. DHA/EPA and iron supplementation individually tended to increase and decrease anti-inflammatory DHA and EPA-derived mediators, respectively. Furthermore the anti-inflammatory DHA-derived immune mediator, 17HDHA was higher in the DHA/EPA plus placebo and iron plus DHA/EPA groups than in the iron plus placebo group. Also, the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid (AA)-derived modulators (5- and 15-hydroxyeicosapentaenoic acid) were significantly lower in the iron plus DHA/EPA group compared to the placebo plus placebo groups. In the study population, 27.2% of the children had allergic disease and AA in PBMC phospholipids was significantly lower in the allergic children than in the non-allergic children. In RBC phospholipids dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and the ratio of DGLA: linoleic acid (LA) correlated negatively and the n-6:n-3 PUFA ratio positively with total immunoglobulin E (tIgE). Furthermore, trans-C18:1n-9, tended to be higher in the allergic group. Conclusion DHA/EPA prevented respiratory illness caused by iron supplementation and although DHA/EPA on its own reduced respiratory morbidity when the children were present at school, surprisingly it increased the likelihood of being absent with headache and fever. The biochemical findings compliment the clinical results and support previous observations about DHA/EPA supplementation to reduce inflammation, but add to the current knowledge base that a relatively high oral dose of non-haem iron modulates circulating lipid-derived immune modulators and related gene expression. Furthermore, when supplementing with iron and DHA/EPA combined, in this ID population with low fish intake, the anti-inflammatory effect of DHA/EPA is maintained concurrently with attenuation of respiratory morbidity. This finding support the notion that excess iron (probably as non-transferrin bound iron) becomes available for pathogens and is probably why we found that iron increased respiratory infectious morbidity. The improved clinical outcome with combined supplementation seems to be related to increased lipid-mediator synthesis gene expression and the availability of DHA/EPA, leading to a more pro-resolving profile and enhanced immune competence. Overall these results give better insight into immune function and infectious morbidity in relation to n-3 PUFA and iron status and treatment, as well as the possible association of fatty acid status with allergic disease in young South-African school children.
- Health Sciences