of Iron May Cause Learning Disability
YORK (Reuters Health) - In a study that may help to explain why
boys tend to outsmart their female counterparts in math class
by the time they reach high school, US researchers have found
that iron deficiency may affect children's ability to understand
of nearly 5,400 children aged 6 to 16 years found that those who
were deficient in iron were more than twice as likely to score
below average on standardized math tests than their more well-nourished
peers. Girls, who are at greatest risk for iron deficiency, were
particularly vulnerable to the mineral's effect on learning, according
to the report in the June issue of Pediatrics.
Iron is essential
to the production of red blood cells, and deficiency in the mineral
can lead to anemia, or having too few red blood cells. Most studies
of learning and iron deficiency have focused on people with iron-deficiency
anemia, and not the larger group of individuals who are iron-deficient
but do not have anemia, the authors note.
suggest that doctors should screen certain patients for iron deficiency,
the researchers conclude.
findings are confirmed, then screening for iron deficiency, particularly
for those children without anemia, might be warranted for high-risk
children,'' Dr. Jill S. Halterman of the University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York, told
Reuters Health. ``It is possible that preventive iron supplementation,
or treatment of those children who are affected, would prevent
the potentially negative cognitive effects of iron deficiency.''
is not yet clear whether learning problems can be corrected through
iron supplementation, she added.
and colleagues explain that nutrition needs during a period of
rapid growth, loss of blood due to menstrual periods and poor
diets make adolescent girls susceptible to iron deficiency. Iron
deficiency results in decreased iron stores in the brain, where
it may affect enzymes and neurotransmitters that impact learning.
relationship between iron deficiency and learning problems in
infants is well known, it is unclear whether the deficiency has
the same effect on older children.
to the study, 3% of children overall were iron-deficient, which
translates into 1.2 million school-aged children nationwide. Nearly
9% of adolescent girls were found to be deficient in iron. Iron
deficiency, even when it did not cause anemia, was associated
with lower scores on tests.
the average math test score for children who were iron-deficient
but not anemic was 87.4, compared with a score of 86.4 for children
who were both iron-deficient and anemic and 93.7 for those who
had adequate iron stores.
no significant differences in scores on reading tests, however.
Halterman said it is not clear why iron deficiency affected only
math test scores, adding that the effects of iron on the brain
are not well understood.
in iron include liver, oysters, tofu and legumes such as lentils,
kidney beans and chickpeas.
Reference Source 89