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Too little iron, too much lead, say UK researchers

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Biomedical researchers in the UK are planning new research into the links between poor diet in children and their susceptibility to brain damage caused by pollution, particularly in the developing world.

It is known that blood levels of around 10 micrograms of lead can cause a drop in IQ levels, the researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University explain. They hypothesise that low levels of iron can actually increase the absorption of other metals into the bloodstream.

Dr. Nessar Ahmed, of MMU's Department of Biological Sciences explains that in Pakistan, lead pollution levels are higher than anywhere else in the world: 80 per cent of children will have enough lead in their blood to damage intelligence. In these same regions, 65 per cent of children suffer from iron deficiency.

"If we can prove that such deficits lead to high levels of metal absorption into the bloodstream, that will be highly significant in terms of preventing growing levels of brain damage associated with polluted environments," Dr. Ahmed says.

Dr. Ahmed and the MMU team, will work with the Dr Panjwani Centre for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research, at the University of Karachi. The researchers will study 200 Pakistani children with differing levels of iron deficiency, testing their blood and hair for lead and manganese. Hair samples will be tested for metal content back in Manchester.

The team expects its first results in 2006. Dr. Ahmed says that if the hypothesis is confirmed, it should help governments develop national health strategies to cut iron deficiencies, as well as underlining the importance of reducing lead pollution. ®

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