An early exposure to the mineral iron could lead to the development of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, and according to a new study, an analysis of a person's teeth could very well reveal his or her level of risk.

Researchers at the Mount Sinai Medical Center have discovered that the teeth can help provide scientists with clues as to the amount of chemical exposure an individual has experience throughout his or her childhood development.

Dr. Manish Arora, exposure biology director at Mount Sinai, said that the microchemical composition of teeth can serve as some form of chronological record regarding a person's exposure to chemicals, similar to how scientists use rings of a trunk to measure the age of the tree.

Arora explained that their examination of deposits of iron in teeth as a way to determine the degree of exposure is only one application, which the researchers believe could lead to the monitoring of pollution's impact on the health of people globally.

Aurora and his colleague, Dr. Dominic Hare, were able to use technology for dental marking to identify infants that were breast-fed and those that were formula-fed. This is viewed as a vital achievement in finding out the connection between an infant's increased iron intake and the development of neurodegenerative diseases, which have been linked to an abnormal processing of iron in some people.

While not all infants that were formula-fed will develop such diseases when they reach adulthood, a combination of early exposure to iron and a predisposition to mental metabolism issues could be enough to cause damaging of the cells over time.

Hare, a research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, said that it is only recently that scientists have the technological capabilities to analyze a person's history of diet as a child, even reaching up to 60 years in his or her past. He compared advanced imaging technology to time machine that allows them to determine decades-old exposure to chemicals, which is equivalent to finding a drop of ink in a pool.

The growth in popularity of fortified cereals and baby formula in different countries has resulted in the need to understand iron metabolism in the human body. The addition of the mineral to formulas has been a standard practice among manufacturers for years because many people in the world are thought to be iron deficient and chronic anemics.

According to the researchers, evidence that suggest that children in Europe and the United States do not get enough iron are misleading, and that iron's benefits to an individual in terms of nutrition and development are modest.

The European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) has stated that there is no need for infants of normal birth weight to be given supplementation for iron, but many in the U.S. still prefer to practice it.

Hare said that the increasing rates of neurodegenerative diseases point to the need for researchers to everything they can in order to identify what could cause such condition to start in people. He said that find out these factors could help them develop new forms of treatments for these diseases.

The Mount Sinai Medical Center-led study is published in the journal Nature Reviews Neurology.

Photo: Steven Depolo | Flickr 

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