How important is iron for mental health ?


A study found that depression is three times higher during COVID-19 than before the pandemic. Physical, emotional, and psychological burnout from the disruption of our normal lives otherwise known as COVID fatigue is playing a role.

Social isolation combined with a lack of activities that bring joy is extremely difficult to process emotionally. Uncertainty, hopelessness, frustration, anger, worry, and fear are just some of the emotions that may be present during these turbulent times.

If you or loved one is experiencing depression, low levels of iron is one such factor that we ruled out as one of the factor of underlying causes of depression. Furthermore, this article depicts how iron deficiency is linked to emotional health.

An association exists between low iron and mental health_._ Not getting enough iron from your diet, or having a condition that restricts its absorption, can result in psychological problems such as iron deficiency depression, reduced cognitive function, and impaired growth and development in children.

Need for iron

Iron is a mineral that is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells, which contain an important protein called hemoglobin.

Also, iron is essential in the production of hemoglobin, a protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues and muscles.

It is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body and therefore, it is critical to how any cell within your body functions, including your brain. It is also responsible for oxygen storage in your blood and muscles, for fatty acid metabolism, energy production overall and the maintenance of your immune system.

Some iron is stored in your body as ferritin. Men can store enough iron for about three years, whereas women can only store enough for about six months. When iron storage gets low, hemoglobin levels decrease and can result in iron depletion or iron deficiency anemia.

How Much Do You Need Iron?

The Institutes of Medicine determined the daily iron requirement your body needs for optimal health according to age and gender. These amounts represent the total recommended intake from food, multivitamins and supplements.

Children 1 to 3 years of age: 7 milligrams; 4 to 8 years of age: 10 milligrams; 9 to 13 years of age: 8 milligrams

Teens 14 to 18 years of age: boys —11 milligrams; girls —15 milligrams

Adults 19 to 50 years of age: women — 18 milligrams; men — 8 milligrams

Adults 51 years and older: 8 milligrams

Pregnant and lactating women: 9 to 27 milligrams

A note on iron deficiency

When there is a lack of iron in the body, red blood cells become small, and less oxygen circulates to body tissues—a condition called iron-deficient anemia. Due to this, it’s unable to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin—a protein in red blood cells that’s responsible for carrying oxygen to organs and tissues throughout the body.  

Some people are iron deficient without actually having anemia. A unique symptom of iron deficiency is a craving for ice. Furthermore, there is a medical term for craving ice: pagophagia. If you crave ice, you may want to have your iron levels checked.

Common symptoms of iron-deficient anemia include lack of energy, dizziness or lightheadedness, and pale skin. But for some people with iron-deficiency anemia, the symptoms can be neurological and psychological in nature, too. In fact, fatigue, brain fog, and restless legs are often some of the first symptoms present in adults with iron-deficiency anemia. Other symptoms may include anxiety, depression, and irritability.

In fact, as per a research published in ‘Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences’, iron deficiency is associated with higher psychological distress.

Connection between iron deficiency and mental health

Iron is key to mood and mental health as it plays a key role in oxidative metabolism and the reduction of free radicals. It is also a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin. Your neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, beta-endorphins, and GABA. Serotonin is responsible for keeping you feeling peaceful, happy, and relaxed. It is your feel good neurotransmitter. Dopamine helps you feel motivated and focused. Beta-endorphins is your natural pain killer. GABA helps you stay calm.

If your body is deficient in iron, less iron will reach your brain. And without enough iron in the brain and nerves, problems can occur with neurotransmitter signaling, the formation of nerve myelin (insulating tissue that protects the nerves), and brain energy metabolism. This slowdown of brain and nerve processing can impact the way you think, feel, and behave.

In a study published in the Lancet in 1996 research found that 78 percent of adolescents with iron deficiency had a remarkable improvement in mood, memory, cognitive ability and concentration after being given iron supplementation.

Effects of iron deficiency on CNS

Iron deficiency can contribute to depression because of its relationship with dopamine—one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that keeps us happy. We require iron for the production of dopamine in the brain. Our bodies use tyrosine from protein-rich foods to produce dopamine, but this only happens in the presence of iron. Thus, a lack of dopamine can lead to depression, anxiety, and even movement disorders like restless leg syndrome.

One of the primary things that happen is a reduction in concentration. When your body isn’t getting enough oxygenation due to a lack of iron, you may find it hard to maintain focus and carry out your daily tasks. In addition, you may experience mood swings and irritability. Over time, in some cases, it may cause anxiety and depression. So, all these problems are interrelated.”

Another key symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue. Over time, feeling physically tired may affect your daily routine and lead to feelings of frustration too. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science observed that those who were deficient in iron were given supplements and reported feeling less fatigued and also showed an improvement in mental health.

How to reduce risk of developing iron deficiency?

Deepti Khatuja, Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, suggested some tips to ensure that you reduce your risk of developing an iron deficiency:

1. Consume foods that are rich in iron: Make sure you’re eating green leafy vegetables, kaala chana, chiwda, and jaggery. If possible, try to include non-vegetarian foods in your diet such as chicken and fish.

2. Consume foods that help absorb iron: Khatuja recommends adding vitamin C-rich foods to help your body absorb iron. She said, “It is extremely important to eat foods that can help absorb iron. For this, you must add vitamin C-rich foods to your diet. So, add lemon to your daal or sabzi. Eat amla regularly. In addition, consume seasonal foods such as oranges and sweet lime.

3. Consuming fermented foods: According to Khatuja, “The process of fermentation can help enhance a food’s ability to help absorb nutrients, including iron. So, have foods like sprouts and other fermented foods.”

4. Keeping a one-hour gap between tea/coffee consumption after meals: Khatuja said, “Tea and coffee can reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. So, avoid consuming such beverages with meals. Moreover, keep an hour long gap between tea/coffee and meals.”

Tips for Coping with Depression

  1. Communicate with loved ones and express your feelings.
  2. Cultivate a meditation or deep breathing practice to aid in relaxation.
  3. Practice gratitude by thinking of three things you are grateful for every day.
  4. Aim to exercise and move your body daily to increase your endorphins.
  5. Sit outside on sunny days to boost your levels of Vitamin D.
  6. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
  7. Consume healthy foods and limit caffeine and alcohol intake.


Thus it is concluded that the importance of iron in mental health cannot be ignored as it plays a vital role in maintaining our mental health.


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