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Iron's Influence on Memory

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Iron's influence on Memory

 

A recent study involving iron-deficient women with diminished memory found that iron supplementation did more than just bring up their iron levels.  Improved iron levels also correlated with better memory and mental-functioning skills on specialized tests.

The study, which appeared in the March 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 113 women ages 18 to 35.  Based on blood tests, the women were classified as having sufficient iron, iron deficiency without anemia, or iron deficiency severe enough to be considered mild anemia.  Baseline tests of memory, learning and attention were given.  Compared with women with sufficient iron, the women with low iron - ranging from moderately low levels to levels low enough to cause anemia - scored more poorly and completed tests more slowly.  Those with anemia had the worst scores.

Study participants were randomly assigned to take either inactive pills (placebos) or iron supplements for the next 16 weeks, after which they were tested again for iron levels and mental functioning.  Those who were iron deficient or iron deficient with mild anemia and took iron supplements improved their mental skills test scores.  In fact, test performance improved fivefold to sevenfold among women who had a significant increase in their iron test levels.  Researchers say their findings call into question the traditional viewpoint that it takes full-blown anemia before mental-functioning skills are impaired.

Mayo Clinic experts say further studies are needed to determine if these findings extend to other population groups, such as men and older adults.  In the meantime, they say it seems reasonable to ask your doctor to consider measuring your iron levels if you're concerned about memory issues - but talk with your doctor before deciding to take iron supplements.

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