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  Canadian 'supersalt' fights iron deficiency

By Natalie James

TORONTO, May 08 (Reuters) - Canadian researchers said on Friday they have perfected a process using common salt that could improve the health of millions of people around the world who don't get enough iron in their diets.

Scientists at the University of Toronto said they have developed an inexpensive "super salt" that, if distributed among the world's poor, could treat some of the chronic health problems associated with iron deficiency. The new process would allow the addition of iron, along with iodine, to ordinary salt.

"Salt is the easiest carrier for iron," said Rizwan Yusofali part of the university's research team led by chemical engineering professor Dr. Levente Diosady.

"It is consumed almost universally and its use doesn't rely on economic levels...people also consume it in equal amounts each day," said Yusofali.

The study was sponsored by the University of Toronto and the Micronutrient Initiative, a programme funded by Canada, the United States, the World bank and UNICEF.

Adding iron to iodine-enriched salt has long been a goal of scientists who were confounded by the apparent chemical incompatibility of the two micronutrients.

After studying the problem for six years, the Canadian scientists said they found a way to put the two together, without negating the healthful affects of either, by coating them with hydrogenated fat. Yusofali said the scientific findings will be presented to the world's leading salt producers next week in The Hague, Netherlands.

Iron deficiency anaemia is the world's most prevalent nutritional problem. Nearly 2 billion people--mostly women and 50 percent of children under five in poor countries--suffer from the condition, which causes low birth weight in children and diminished work capacity in adults. It is also the leading cause of death associated with pregnancy, accounting for an estimated 250,000 deaths a year worldwide, the scientists said.

The creation of a double-fortified salt is seen as a boon for agencies working in Third World countries trying to overcome the problems of distributing iron to the poor, who mostly live in inaccessible rural areas "It has big implications. It won't eradicate iron deficiency from the world, but it will certainly be a start," said Sue Horton, an economics professor at the University of Toronto.

With Third World economies losing billions of dollars because of fatigued, iron-deficient workforces, said Horton, the iron-enriched salt would be a significant health and economic benefit.

Yusofali said some governments are already discussing the possibility of subsidising the price of iron-fortified salt. He said that at an estimated cost of 15 Canadian cents per person a year, salt is the cheapest way to provide iron to the people who need most.

India, Ghana and Nigeria are potential countries for the first "super salt" tests planned for the end of this year, the scientists said.


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