Do you know Iron deficiency can cause memory problems?

Do you know Iron deficiency can cause memory problems?

Last Reviewed : 12/24/2020
Do you know Iron deficiency can cause memory problems?

Iron deficiency is one of the common nutritional deficiencies women struggle with. It occurs when the body lacks iron, which is an essential mineral. When your body lacks iron, it leads to a considerable drop of red blood cells. Well, the simple explanation is that the mineral is needed to make hemoglobin. Obviously, iron deficiency is a condition you shouldn’t give room to. The question now is, “How do you know that you are suffering from iron deficiency?” Well, the symptoms of iron deficiency include unusual tiredness, shortness of breath, paleness of skin, headache and dizziness, heart palpitations, damaged skin and hair, soreness of tongue and mouth, etc. While there may be other uncommon symptoms, people who do not have sufficient iron in their bodies always exhibit one or more of those signs.


Common Causes and Relevant Studies

The causes of iron deficiency include:

  • Deficiency of iron in the food or decreased absorption
  • Increased demand during pregnancy or puberty
  • Regular shedding of endometrium along with blood in the form of periods every month.

Iron is not only responsible for the transport of oxygen, but it is very important for maintaining the functions of brain which includes the memory. There are many studies that have demonstrated the importance of iron in women suffering from memory problems.

A study was conducted in the United States of America among 100 women of age 18-35 years. About half of them had mild iron deficiency without anemia. All of them were subjected to a series of learning and memory tests and the results were associated with low iron status in their bodies. They were actually asked to remember a lineup of pictures displayed on the computer screen. On an average, women who had normal iron levels had missed 8 out of 54 pictures. The ones who had mild iron deficiency had missed 16 (double than that of women with normal iron levels) out of 54 pictures.

In the next step, half of the women who had mild iron deficiency were given 60 milligrams of elemental iron per day. Their iron levels were measured till their levels improved. After 4 months again, they were subjected to same tests and they performed equally well as the normal women.

Many studies were done to show the impact of iron deficiency on cognitive functions of the brain. A randomized, double-blind intervention study in New Zealand (2002) was conducted among adolescent girls. It revealed that giving iron significantly improved immediate recall of recently heard words. They also found out associations between hemoglobin levels, recall of recently heard words and serum ferritin levels. The study concluded that

  • Iron deficiency may impair the performance of everyday activities that involve verbal working memory
  • Improvement in iron status may bring about an improvement in verbal working memory performance.



If these studies are anything to go by, they have clearly shown the importance of iron in women and people in general. Plus, women need iron to perform their day-to-day activities because the nutrient helps them to improve their verbal working memory. In clear terms, everyday people need iron to bring the best in them. In other words, the benefit of having above-average levels of iron in the body transcends revving up your red blood cells. If you suspect you have insufficient iron in your body, you should consult your doctor on steps to take in order to replenish the essential nutrient.




  • Fretham SJ, Carlson ES, Georgieff MK. The Role of Iron in Learning and Memory. Adv Nutr. 2011;2 (2):112-21.
  • Youdim MB. Brain Iron Deficiency and Excess; Cognitive Impairment and Neurodegeneration with Involvement of Striatum and Hippocampus. Neurotox Res. 2008 Aug;14 (1):45-56.


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