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Iron deficiency and cognitive function

Iron deficiency is a common nutritional concern that affects millions of individuals worldwide. Beyond its well-known role in maintaining healthy blood cells, iron plays a crucial role in cognitive function.

How does iron play a role in cognitive function?

1. Iron plays a vital role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood and cognition.

2. Iron is also crucial for the production and maintenance of myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibers, allowing for efficient neural communication.

3. Iron is essential for energy metabolism within brain cells, ensuring optimal brain function.

Adequate iron levels support optimal cognitive function, including attention, memory, learning, and executive functions. Iron deficiency can lead to cognitive impairments, including reduced attention span, impaired memory, and compromised learning abilities.

Who is most at risk of iron deficiency?

Certain population groups are more prone to iron deficiency and subsequent cognitive impairment. Infants, young children, adolescents, and women of childbearing age, particularly during pregnancy, are susceptible due to increased iron requirements. Individuals with conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic kidney disease may also face an elevated risk. Additionally, vegetarians, vegans, and individuals with poor dietary habits may be at a higher risk of inadequate iron intake.

How can iron deficiency be addressed?

Iron deficiency can be effectively addressed through various strategies. Dietary modifications form the cornerstone, focusing on consuming iron-rich foods such as lean meats, seafood, beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Pairing iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C can enhance iron absorption. In cases of severe deficiency or malabsorption, iron supplementation may be recommended under medical supervision. Monitoring iron levels through regular blood tests is essential to assess progress and adjust interventions accordingly. It is worth noting that iron repletion may take time, as the body's iron stores need to be replenished gradually.

Maintaining adequate iron levels is crucial for optimal cognitive function. Iron supports various aspects of cognitive health, including neurotransmitter synthesis, myelination, and energy metabolism in the brain. By addressing iron deficiency through appropriate dietary modifications and supplementation when necessary, individuals can enhance cognitive function and overall well-being.


1. Jáuregui-Lobera I. (2014). Iron deficiency and cognitive functions. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 10, 2087–2095.


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