Iron & Mood and Cognition
So, it is very well known that iron is super-important for our body to function optimally, as iron is an important component of haemoglobin1 (the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen and spreads it throughout our body). When we have depleted iron stores, we usually feel tired and fatigued because our body consequently isn’t getting enough oxygen – this is why iron supplementation is so important – we need oxygen to stay alive.
According to WHO (World Health Organization)2, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world. An important question is whether our iron level is important in bettering our mood and cognition, as these two factors affect the quality of how we go about our every day lives. Some studies say yes, and other studies report that there wasn’t a strong correlation between the two.
Iron deficiency anaemia is common in women, and has been associated with depression and lethargy3, while also having been associated with mood & cognitive impairments4. A systematic review conducted by researchers from Deakin University reports that results from various studies have not all shown that iron supplementation always helps better our mood and cognition. Further studies are needed to support a direct link between the variables (Iron Supplement and Mood & Cognitive Performance).
Out of 11 studies, 7 showed that memory was improved, along with intellectual ability, when the person took an iron supplement (even if they were iron-deficient or not). However, 4 out of 11 showed no link, therefore the ‘fact’ that iron helps improve our mood & cognition should be taken with caution.
At this point, it is ideal to consult with your GP for a professional opinion on whether you should take iron supplements. It is integral to take iron supplementation only under the instruction & supervision of your GP, because iron is a micronutrient and should only be taken in small amounts, as large amounts can be harmful to the body.
In summary, if you are experiencing frequent tiredness and lethargy, it is most likely impacting on your mood and cognitive performance, as your brain will want more rest. So, the take-home message here is to visit your GP when feeling tired frequently, even when eating well and staying hydrated, as this could indicate an underlying cause for your tiredness. Once increasing your iron intake, you can judge whether you feel better or not, as some studies are inconclusive of a direct link between an increase in iron and improved mood & cognition.
3 Benton, D., & Donohoe, T. R. (1999). The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Health Nutrition, 2(3a), 403-409.
4Lomagno, K. A., Riddell, L. J., Booth, A. O., Szymlek-Gay, E. A., Nowson, C. A., & Byrne, L. K. (2014). Increasing iron and zinc in pre-menopausal women and its effects on mood and cognition: a systematic review. Nutrients , 6(11), 5117-5141