Iron deficiency in infancy and early childhood is associated with long-term cognitive, social, and emotional problems
The brain develops rapidly in the first few years of life, and proper nutrition is needed to support optimal brain development. Iron is a micronutrient that is essential for the developing brain as it helps carry oxygen to brain cells. Because the brain is developing so rapidly, it needs a lot of iron, and many kids do not get the amount of iron needed to support their brain development.
Lower IQ and poorer cognitive functioning
Greater ADHD symptoms
Unfortunately, these problems often persist into adolescence and adulthood, even after iron deficiency has been treated (Doom et al., 2014; Lozoff et al., 2013). That is why preventing iron deficiency is so important!
Babies and kids with iron deficiency may appear tired because they lack energy since their body isn’t able to transport oxygen effectively. This tiredness can lead to a loop where caregivers interact less with the iron-deficient kids because they need less attention, and then kids don’t get the social interaction from caregivers that they need to support their social and cognitive development (Doom et al., 2020). So there are both social and biological ways that iron deficiency can affect development.
Iron deficiency is more common in babies and children who grow up in poverty for a number of reasons. Some reasons include:
There is evidence that iron stored in the brain can become depleted before we can detect iron deficiency in blood samples. As a result, we may not be catching everyone with low iron who might be helped by iron supplements.
The following are some general tips for improving or maintaining iron levels in infants and children:
The reason why we don’t supplement every kid with iron even though it is so important for brain development is that too much iron can be toxic and negatively affect the developing brain. Giving your child a high-dose iron supplement when they are already iron-sufficient and getting enough iron in their diet could be counterproductive.
You should have your child screened by their pediatrician early in development and work with them to make sure your child has appropriate iron levels. The earlier that you’re able to intervene, the more likely your child’s brain will be able to recover and develop optimally. Healthy iron levels are important for setting up babies’ brains for long-term success.