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The effects of iron deficiency on cognitive function and memory

iron deficiency effects

During our whole life, our brain represents a dynamic structure which constantly remodels through internal and external factors. The fetal brain grows the fastest during the last trimester of pregnancy and continues to proliferate during the first three years of life. 

Diet is surely one of the most important factors in the growth and development of the brain. The deficiency of certain macro- and micro-nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, copper, iodine, different vitamins and other nutrients, has a big influence on brain development. 

To prevent the deficiency from happening, food supplements are a great way to keep yourself up-to-date on all your nutrient needs, including different multivitamins in fun shapes and chewable form, but also your daily dose of iron.

What can iron deficiency lead to?

Iron deficiency causes significant changes in the nervous system, which prevents proper mental development, especially in children and adolescents. More specifically, iron deficiency affects a component of the brain and nervous system which is crucial for the development of feelings, motivation and motoric functions, but also for cognitive function.

Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia and neurological disorders, such as cognitive dyspraxia and behaviour disorders. Adequate iron intake is extremely important for the normal function of the organism and in order to prevent the above-mentioned illnesses and disorders from happening.

iron deficiency symptoms

What are the causes and symptoms of low iron levels?

The body needs iron for blood formation and a number of metabolic processes, such as oxygen supply to the cells. Iron deficiency often occurs after severe blood loss (e.g. after operations, blood donations, menstruation). 

Poor nutrition or diseases can also be causes of iron deficiency. The body cannot produce iron itself, so it is dependent on the supply through food. Iron deficiency can develop into iron deficiency anaemia. This refers to a disease that does not allow sufficient blood formation due to a persistent iron deficiency.

Tiredness, dizziness, palpitations, rapid increase in pulse during exertion, sleep disturbances, concentration problems and headaches: these are just some of the many symptoms that iron deficiency can cause.

An iron deficiency can become noticeable insidiously. Symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and lack of energy can sometimes occur for years without the affected person even thinking about an iron deficiency. 

But iron deficiency, which often goes unnoticed for years, leads to anaemia and a lack of blood cells. The body cells are no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen, so concentration problems, paleness and dry skin, brittle and cracked nails, hair loss, loss of appetite and lastly anaemia are the consequences.

Iron deficiency and cognitive function

Iron deficiency can have effects on the whole body, e.g. on the central nervous system. It can lead to dizziness, headaches, depression, decreased performance or poor concentration. It can also affect the cardiovascular system and the immune system.

Iron is very important for the healthy development of children and adolescents, as well as for adults. A deficiency can have a negative effect on the ability to concentrate and pay attention. These mental performance deficits are also called cognitive deficits. These abilities are enormously important, especially at school or at work.

People with low iron levels in their blood, or anaemic people, are more at risk of developing problems with thinking, understanding, communication and memory. Research showed that people who took iron supplementation for a number of weeks significantly improved their attention, short-term and long-term memory and their performance on cognitive tasks.

iron supplements

What can you do to make it right?

Women before menopause are recommended to take 15 milligrams of iron a day - after menopause 10 mg is sufficient. For men, the recommendation is generally 10 mg per day. The reason for the higher requirement of pre-menopausal women is that they also lose iron in their blood during menstruation.

Iron absorption depends greatly on what you eat and drink overall. If you pay attention to a balanced, conscious diet, you will usually cover your iron requirements with fresh foods. It is favourable to promote the absorption of iron with different food.

For example, you can drink a fruit juice rich in vitamin C with your meal or eat citrus fruits as a dessert. Refrain from drinking coffee, tea or red wine with your meal; the tannins they contain inhibit the absorption of iron. If you choose supplements, you can even mix vitamin D and iron supplements together to get all the nutrients you need easily.

We all sometimes find ourselves in situations when we cannot watch our diet carefully and stick to all the rules. In those cases, it is a good idea to include iron supplements such as Chewwies in your diet because they provide you with a sufficient amount of iron for the whole day. Actually - why not take them every day just in case?