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Can iron deficiency affect memory?

Q: Does iron deficiency affect memory? Can it lead to memory loss?

A:Several studies have shown the impact of iron deficiency on cognitive functions. A randomised, double-blind intervention study in New Zealand (2002) in adolescent girls revealed that giving iron significantly improved immediate recall of recently heard words. In addition, significant relationships were found between haemoglobin levels and recall of recent words and between serum ferritin levels and reading span. These results suggest that

  • iron deficiency may impair the performance of everyday activities that involve verbal working memory and
  • improvement in iron status may bring about an improvement in verbal working memory performance.
Another US study (2004) in young women between 18 and 35 years showed the impact of iron supplementation on mental functioning. This study revealed that even modest levels of iron deficiency have a negative impact on mental functioning in young women, and iron supplementation can reverse this impact in this age group. Even when the haemoglobin is normal (no anaemia) but the individual is iron deficient, there is effect on cognitive functioning, including memory, attention, learning tasks, and time to complete studies.

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