Background: Anaemia is a prevalent health problem worldwide. Some types are preventable or controllable with iron supplementation (pills or drops), fortification (sprinkles or powders containing iron added to food) or improvements to dietary diversity and quality (e.g. education or counselling).
Objectives: To summarise the evidence from systematic reviews regarding the benefits or harms of nutrition-specific interventions for preventing and controlling anaemia in anaemic or non-anaemic, apparently healthy populations throughout the life cycle.
Methods: In August 2020, we searched MEDLINE, Embase and 10 other databases for systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in anaemic or non-anaemic, apparently healthy populations. We followed standard Cochrane methodology, extracting GRADE ratings where provided. The primary outcomes were haemoglobin (Hb) concentration, anaemia, and iron deficiency anaemia (IDA); secondary outcomes were iron deficiency (ID), severe anaemia and adverse effects (e.g. diarrhoea, vomiting).
Main results: We included 75 systematic reviews, 33 of which provided GRADE assessments; these varied between high and very low. Infants (6 to 23 months; 13 reviews) Iron supplementation increased Hb levels and reduced the risk of anaemia and IDA in two reviews. Iron fortification of milk or cereals, multiple-micronutrient powder (MMNP), home fortification of complementary foods, and supplementary feeding increased Hb levels and reduced the risk of anaemia in six reviews. In one review, lipid-based nutrient supplementation (LNS) reduced the risk of anaemia. In another, caterpillar cereal increased Hb levels and IDA prevalence. Food-based strategies (red meat and fortified cow's milk, beef) showed no evidence of a difference (1 review). Preschool and school-aged children (2 to 10 years; 8 reviews) Daily or intermittent iron supplementation increased Hb levels and reduced the risk of anaemia and ID in two reviews. One review found no evidence of difference in Hb levels, but an increased risk of anaemia and ID for the intermittent regime. All suggested that zinc plus iron supplementation versus zinc alone, multiple-micronutrient (MMN)-fortified beverage versus control, and point-of-use fortification of food with iron-containing micronutrient powder (MNP) versus placebo or no intervention may increase Hb levels and reduce the risk of anaemia and ID. Fortified dairy products and cereal food showed no evidence of a difference on the incidence of anaemia (1 review). Adolescent children (11 to 18 years; 4 reviews) Compared with no supplementation or placebo, five types of iron supplementation may increase Hb levels and reduce the risk of anaemia (3 reviews). One review on prevention found no evidence of a difference in anaemia incidence on iron supplementation with or without folic acid, but Hb levels increased. Another suggested that nutritional supplementation and counselling reduced IDA. One review comparing MMN fortification with no fortification observed no evidence of a difference in Hb levels. Non-pregnant women of reproductive age (19 to 49 years; 5 reviews) Two reviews suggested that iron therapy (oral, intravenous (IV), intramuscular (IM)) increased Hb levels; one showed that iron folic acid supplementation reduced anaemia incidence; and another that daily iron supplementation with or without folic acid or vitamin C increased Hb levels and reduced the risk of anaemia and ID. No review reported interventions related to fortification or dietary diversity and quality. Pregnant women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years; 23 reviews) One review apiece suggested that: daily iron supplementation with or without folic acid increased Hb levels in the third trimester or at delivery and in the postpartum period, and reduced the risk of anaemia, IDA and ID in the third trimester or at delivery; intermittent iron supplementation had no effect on Hb levels and IDA, but increased the risk of anaemia at or near term and ID, and reduced the risk of side effects; vitamin A supplementation alone versus placebo, no intervention or other micronutrient might increase maternal Hb levels and reduce the risk of maternal anaemia; MMN with iron and folic acid versus placebo reduced the risk of anaemia; supplementation with oral bovine lactoferrin versus oral ferrous iron preparations increased Hb levels and reduced gastrointestinal side effects; MNP for point-of-use fortification of food versus iron and folic acid supplementation might decrease Hb levels at 32 weeks' gestation and increase the risk of anaemia; and LNS versus iron or folic acid and MMN increased the risk of anaemia. Mixed population (all ages; 22 reviews) Iron supplementation versus placebo or control increased Hb levels in healthy children, adults, and elderly people (4 reviews). Hb levels appeared to increase and risk of anaemia and ID decrease in two reviews investigating MMN fortification versus placebo or no treatment, iron fortified flour versus control, double fortified salt versus iodine only fortified salt, and rice fortification with iron alone or in combination with other micronutrients versus unfortified rice or no intervention. Each review suggested that fortified versus non-fortified condiments or noodles, fortified (sodium iron ethylenediaminetetraacetate; NaFeEDTA) versus non-fortified soy sauce, and double-fortified salt versus control salt may increase Hb concentration and reduce the risk of anaemia. One review indicated that Hb levels increased for children who were anaemic or had IDA and received iron supplementation, and decreased for those who received dietary interventions. Another assessed the effects of foods prepared in iron pots, and found higher Hb levels in children with low-risk malaria status in two trials, but no difference when comparing food prepared in non-cast iron pots in a high-risk malaria endemicity mixed population. There was no evidence of a difference for adverse effects. Anaemia and malaria prevalence were rarely reported. No review focused on women aged 50 to 65 years plus or men (19 to 65 years plus).
Authors' conclusions: Compared to no treatment, daily iron supplementation may increase Hb levels and reduce the risk of anaemia and IDA in infants, preschool and school-aged children and pregnant and non-pregnant women. Iron fortification of foods in infants and use of iron pots with children may have prophylactic benefits for malaria endemicity low-risk populations. In any age group, only a limited number of reviews assessed interventions to improve dietary diversity and quality. Future trials should assess the effects of these types of interventions, and consider the requirements of different populations.
Copyright © 2021 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.