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Iron Supplementation Improves Cognitive Function

April 2012


It is estimated that 25% of the world’s population, and approximately 50% of pre-school children worldwide have anaemia.  50% of anaemia cases are due to iron deficiency.  Studies have shown that iron deficiency in infancy is related to poorer cognition in childhood.

Iron is an essential mineral that plays key function in oxygen transport and storage.  Iron deficiency is associated with fatigue, lethargy, impaired cognitive and motor function.  The risk factors of developing iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) include low iron intake, poor absorption of iron, and high iron demand particularly during infancy, growth spurts, adolescence, and pregnancy.  In observational studies anaemia and iron deficiency are associated with cognitive deficits, suggesting that iron supplementation may improve cognitive function.

A recent meta-analysis assessed whether iron supplementation improved cognitive functions including concentration, intelligence, memory, psychomotor skills and scholastic achievement.  Fourteen RCTs on iron supplementation in males and females aged 6 years and older were included in this analysis.

This analysis found that iron supplementation improved attention and concentration irrespective of baseline iron status.  In anaemic women and children, supplementation improved intelligence quotient (IQ) by 2.5 points, but had no effect on non-anaemic participants, or on memory, psychomotor skills or scholastic achievement.

Findings from this analysis provided evidence on the benefits of iron supplementation on cognitive function, however, further studies of at least one year’s duration with varying levels of baseline iron status and using well validated tests of cognition are needed to confirm and extend these results.

Falkingham et al. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:4

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