“We found iron hydroxide adipate tartrate (IHAT) is a promising alternative to treat iron deficiency,” she said.
“It was just as safe and effective at boosting iron levels in pregnant mice as existing treatments, but with fewer adverse side-effects.”
IHAT has undergone clinical trials but those did not include pregnant women due to standard safety precautions.
Associate Professor David Frazer, the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Molecular Nutrition Laboratory, said they wanted to move to a full clinical trial in pregnant women.
“Obviously you can’t ask mice ‘how are you feeling’ but we got some good biomarker indications that IHAT was tolerated much better than a more standard supplement,” he said.
“On top of all the other evidence [from previous clinical trials], it suggests pregnant women would suffer much fewer side-effects using this iron supplement.”
Most iron supplements on the market use ferrous salts, usually in the form of ferrous sulphate and sometimes ferrous fumarate.
Frazer said IHAT caused fewer side-effects because it interacted with the body in a way that resembled ordinary food.
“Our colleagues at Cambridge are food chemists, and they’ve tried to mimic the breakdown of food with this compound,” he said.
“So where you’d normally take in a ferrous salt, which is very good at treating the iron deficiency but is also highly reactive which leads to gastrointestinal side-effects, IHAT is much more tolerable because it breaks down just like food would.”
Frazer said some sort of iron supplement was needed to ensure pregnant women didn’t become anaemic.
“Lots of dieticians will insist you can get [your iron requirements] through diet but I just don’t think that’s the case,” he said.
“Pregnant women are advised by the NHMRC to consume 27 milligrams of iron a day every single day of their pregnancy – that’s equivalent to a kilo of steak every day. It’s not viable.
“There’s the sense that if you have to take iron supplements you’ve failed, and that’s just not the case.”
Pharmaceutical company Nemysis did not fund and was not involved in the research, but has subsequently obtained the rights to produce a supplement using IHAT.
The research has been published in the Journal of Nutrition.