Iron supplementation and cognitive performance - Tips from Other Journals

Author: Anne D. Walling
Date: Feb 15, 1997

Iron deficiency is a common condition that is believed to impair physical endurance, growth and development, and aspects of cognitive function. Bruner and colleagues evaluated the effects of iron supplementation on attention, memory and learning abilities in nonanemic adolescent girls attending urban high schools.

Nonanemic iron deficiency was defined as a serum ferritin concentration of less than 12 ng per mL (12 [Mu]g per L) with normal levels of hemoglobin (adjusted for age and race). A total of 78 girls completed eight weeks of treatment with either oral ferrous sulfate (650 mg twice daily) or identical placebo. Baseline cognitive function was measured before treatment, using standardized tests. Compliance was closely monitored throughout the trial. Research assistants either gave or reminded participants to take medication, and small prizes were given for compliance.

At the end of the study, mean serum ferritin and mean hemoglobin levels had risen significantly in the treatment group. Although no difference could be documented in measures of attention between the two groups, the girls who received iron showed improvement in assessments of recall, verbal learning and memory. Both groups reported similar rates of side effects: abdominal pain (26 percent), headache (20 percent), nausea (19 percent), diarrhea (6 percent) and constipation (4 percent).

The authors conclude that iron supplementation may improve verbal learning and memory in nonanemic young women. They note that this age group remains vulnerable to subclinical iron deficiency.

Bruner AB, et al. Randomised study of cognitive effects of iron supplementation in non-anaemic iron-deficient adolescent girls. Lancet 1996; 348:992-6.

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