Distracted Young Women May Need More Iron
April 28, 2004
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Young women who have trouble concentrating might just need more iron in their diets, researchers say.

Women in the Penn State study who were iron-deficient performed significantly worse on memory and attention tests than healthy women, and an iron supplement was all it took to correct the problem.

"We were able to bring it right back to normal, back to the level of the iron-sufficient women," said Laura Murray-Kolb, a Penn State nutritional researcher.

Iron, an oxygen-carrying component of blood, is especially important for women, whose bodies absorb less iron than men and lose it more frequently because of blood loss during menstruation.

Doctors have long known that anemia brought on by iron deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating. But most research on less-severe iron deficiency has been limited to children, said Lisa Ritchie, director of the dietetics program at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.

The study, presented last week at an American Society of Nutritional Sciences conference, found that women ages 18 to 35 suffered many of the same effects from iron deficiency.

The women were given several computerized tests to gauge attention and memory. Women who were anemic were both slower and less accurate than healthy women. Women who were iron-deficient but not anemic completed the tests as quickly as healthy women but were significantly less accurate.

Women who did poorly in the initial tests performed as well as the others after they increased their iron intake.

Scientists said younger women may be particularly at risk for iron deficiency because of their diet. Red meat is loaded with easily absorbable iron; fruits and vegetables not only have less iron, the iron they have is not easily absorbed.

Fully 20 percent of the women in the Penn State study - many of them university students - were either iron-deficient or anemic.

"Taking a look at the typical college student, they may be financially strapped, so buying a lot of iron-rich foods may not be their top priority, especially for females," Ritchie said.