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Iron deficiency in psychiatric patients

Levin S, Gattari T (2023) Current Psychiatry 22(3) 25-34. doi: 10.12788/cp.0337 

Web URL: Read this article in full via Current Psychiatry Journal here (MDedge)

File Download: View or download this article as a pdf here (289.29 KB)


Nutritional deficiencies are one of the many causes of or contributors to symptoms in patients with psychiatric disorders. In this article, we discuss the prevalence of iron deficiency and its link to poor mental health, and how proper treatment may improve psychiatric symptoms.

We also offer suggestions for how and when to test for and treat iron deficiency in psychiatric patients.

A common condition

Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 25% of the global population is anemic and nearly one-half of those cases are the result of iron deficiency.(1) 

While the WHO has published guidelines defining iron deficiency as it relates to ferritin levels ((2,3) Mei et al(2) found that hemoglobin and soluble transferrin receptors can be used to determine iron-deficient erythropoiesis, which indicates a physiological definition of iron deficiency.

According to a study of children and nonpregnant women by Mei et al,(2) children with ferritin levels <20 ug/L and women with ferritin levels <25 ug/L should be considered iron-deficient. If replicated, this study suggests the prevalence of iron deficiency is higher than currently estimated.(2)

Overall, an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide have iron-deficiency anemia.(4) Additionally, patients can be iron deficient without being anemic, a condition thought to be at least twice as common.(4)

1. McLean E, Cogswell M, Egli I, et al. Worldwide prevalence of anaemia, WHO Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition Information System, 1993-2005. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(4):444-454.

2. Mei Z, Addo OY, Jefferds ME, et al. Physiologically based serum ferritin thresholds for iron deficiency in children and non-pregnant women: a US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) serial cross-sectional study. Lancet Haematol. 2021;8(8):e572-e582.

3. Snozek CLH, Spears GM, Porco AB, et al. Updated ferritin reference intervals for the Roche Elecsys® immunoassay. Clin Biochem. 2021;87:100-103. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2020.11.006

4. Camaschella C. Iron deficiency. Blood. 2019;133(1):30-39. doi:10.1182/blood-2018-05-815944



This open-access article from Current Psychiatry provides an excellent brief reference for clinicians, providing both:

  • a concise and readable summary of research linking iron deficiency with many different mental health symptoms and conditions
  • practical information for clinicians on recognising iron deficiency, and the possible treatment options

See the related nelated news article here:

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