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Is Low Iron Negatively Impacting your Cognitive Performance or Emotional Well-Being?

  • 3 min read

Symptoms of iron deficiency vary greatly, and certain signs may be so subtle that they are easy to miss. Some common warning signals that your body is not getting enough iron are easier to see and feel, like hair loss, restless leg syndrome, twitches, and pallor (pale skin). But what about the symptoms that many people might chalk up to a busy lifestyle or inadequate sleep – like fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration?

If you have been experiencing difficulty focusing on tasks or mood disturbances, understanding the relationship between low iron, cognitive performance, and mental wellness is an important step in identifying whether you may be iron deficient. Everybody suffers from an inability to concentrate and anxious thoughts from time to time, but for those who persistently struggle with challenges such as these, the time is now to consider visiting your doctor to test your iron levels. This is especially true if you are pregnant, as pregnant women are one of the largest groups affected by iron deficiency.

Iron Deficiency and Cognitive Function

The links between iron deficiency and cognitive functioning have been well-studied. Maternal, fetal/neonatal, and early childhood iron deficiency – and their short-term and long-term effects on brain development and cognitive performance – have been of particular interest for researchers. Of course a pregnant woman’s dietary habits and overall lifestyle impact her unborn child’s development; however, taking this a step further, research has clearly identified that low maternal iron levels can negatively influence fetal cognitive development.

Importantly, studies have uncovered that consequences of iron deficiency during the key developmental phases of gestation and early childhood can carry into adulthood. We have gathered some compelling findings:

  • “Term infants born with ferritin concentrations in the lowest quartile exhibit poorer early school performance”1
  • “Term infants born to iron deficient anemic mothers exhibit alterations in temperament and activity”2
  • “Infants of diabetic mothers who were at risk for neonatal iron deficiency have poorer immediate and delayed recall of object sequences at 3.5 years, directly related to the degree of iron deficiency”3
  • “Children that are iron deficient—often as a result of poor diet—score poorly in mathematics and language tests”4
  • “Iron deficiency early in life confers a risk to developing brain structures, neurotransmitter systems and myelination that result in acute brain dysfunction during the period of deficiency and long-lasting abnormalities even after complete brain iron repletion” 5
  • “Iron deficiency has been previously considered a potent cause of poor cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, and psychomotor instability…it is worth considering that iron deficiency (low serum ferritin level) could lead to ADHD symptoms”6
  • “A causal relationship between iron deficiency and ADHD and poor cognitive development and/or behavioral problems has been well-established over the past 3 decades”7

Iron Deficiency and Mood/Mental Well-Being

  • “Lower serum ferritin concentrations were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms”8
  • “Those with iron deficient anemia in infancy exhibited more anxiety, depression, social problems, and attentional problems in later life”9
  • “Children with severe, chronic iron deficiency in infancy had a greater prevalence of anxiety and depression”10
  • “Iron deletion in childhood has immediate and chronic effects on brain development, in that children with iron deficient anemia exhibited an increased risk of…cognitive impairment and emotional problems during adolescence”11
  • “Iron deficiency anaemia is common, particularly in women, and is associated with apathy, depression and rapid fatigue when exercising”12

It’s important to note that while the above effects linked to iron deficiency during fetal, neonatal, and early childhood can continue to manifest into adulthood, such changes to cognitive performance and emotional health can also occur with newly acquired iron deficiency, at any age.

Pregnant women ought to be especially vigilant about ensuring their iron stores are adequate, as this nutrient is fundamental to a healthy, safe pregnancy, and as the above research indicates, vital to the short and long-term health of the child. Currently, the Government of Canada recommends that pregnant women consume 27mg of iron daily during pregnancy. The Lucky Iron Fish is a safe way to bolster your iron stores – even during pregnancy – pending your physician’s approval. 

Are you iron deficient and experiencing difficulty concentrating, irritability, or dealing with anxious thoughts? Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tell us about your symptoms – you are not alone and there are many others in our community who can relate.