Can Iron Deficiency Cause Psychological Problems, including Depression?

Depression-Like Symptoms

When we inhale, the oxygen in the air is transferred from our lungs into the blood stream via tiny blood vessels. Red blood cells pick up the oxygen molecules and transfer them throughout the body. Normal red blood cells have enough of the chemical called hemoglobin to absorb oxygen molecules and transmit within the body.

In a body that is deficient in iron, insufficient hemoglobin is produced. This results in deformed, smaller and fewer red blood cells. Without the proper amount of oxygen reaching the brain and other vital organs, fatigue sets in. Fatigue, poor concentration and moodiness are all signs of depression as well as signs of low iron. Without a medical diagnosis, it is impossible to tell what is causing the symptoms.

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Iron Deficiency and Psychological Disorders


Anxiety is a psychological issue that can stem from having low iron levels. If you have low iron levels, it could trigger panic symptoms, leading to a panic attack. Panic attack symptoms include feelings of dread, fear of dying, chest tightness, headache, fear of fainting, choking symptoms, muscle weakness, insomnia and visual disturbances. In some cases, low iron levels can lead to irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias, notes the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. A fast or irregular heart rate can trigger a panic attack, especially if you think it could lead to a heart attack or heart failure. Once your iron levels are brought into a normal range, most irregular heart rhythms and signs of panic subside.


If you have any type of iron deficiency, one psychological symptom could be signs of depression. While an iron deficiency may not be the sole cause of depression, it can cause symptoms similar to depression such as a lack of appetite, irritability, extreme fatigue, headaches and mood swings. Having a broad range of symptoms, especially before diagnosis, can be troubling and lead to feelings of sadness, helplessness and depression.

Mental Disturbances

There are certain mental disturbances you may experience if your iron count is low. The National Anemia Action Council explains that you may feel dizziness which can make you feel like the room is spinning or you are off-balance. Feelings of unsteadiness can trigger feelings of paranoia and motion sickness, making you unable to complete average tasks. You may also have forgetfulness, trouble concentrating on the task at hand as well as finding it difficult to perform simple mental tasks such as reading, getting projects done and staying focused on others around you.

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Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome occurs when you begin to experience unpleasant sensations in your legs such as pulling, creeping, throbbing, crawling and sometimes stabbing pain that occurs mainly at rest. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explain that iron deficiency can trigger restless leg syndrome. Over time, restless leg syndrome may trigger psychological issues such as insomnia, stress and anxiety over going to sleep and getting enough rest.

Importance of Keeping Iron Balance

It is an established fact that iron is very essential for neurological functions and development. Iron deficiency is very prevalent all over the world. This deficiency can lead to depressed neurotransmitter response, leading to clinical depression. When iron is not transported from the blood plasma pool to the cerebrospinal fluid, depression can set in.

The importance of iron for sustaining good health cannot be underestimated. Lack of iron can lead to exhaustion, clinical depression, vulnerability to viruses, cancer, and various degenerative conditions.

On the other end of the spectrum, excess iron or change in the iron-binding capability leads to a situation where the free unbound iron causes or aggravates all diseases, infections, cancers and toxicities.

Therefore, in our efforts to acquire the right proportion of iron or lose excess iron, we must not overlook the fact that iron must be bound and properly guided through the body from the time of ingestion to excretion.

If we do not pay attention to bind and properly guide iron during the detoxification process, the toxic effects of iron may nullify its various benefits.

It is very difficult to determine the exact iron content in the body, since no test or combination of tests, under any clinical condition, can give us the accurate estimate.

Before laboratory investigations lead us to any conclusion, it must be understood, that the results of each laboratory test may be influenced by factors such as infection, inflammation, liver disease and malignancy. Sometimes laboratory tests are inadequate.

Most elements can either donate or accept electrons in order to attain a stable electronic configuration; but iron can both, donate as well as accept electrons.

Due to this ability of iron, it is highly reactive and can be highly toxic. Hydrogen Peroxide in our body readily dismutates in the presence of iron, giving rise to free radicals. Unbound iron speeds up this process of producing free radicals. Free radicals play havoc by damaging cell structures and ultimately killing the cell, resulting in various diseases.

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The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following:

Infants and children:
* Younger than 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day (mg/day)
* 7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
* 1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
* 4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day

* 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
* 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
* Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day

* 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
* 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
* 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
* 51 and older: 8 mg/day
* Pregnant women of all ages: 27 mg/day
* Lactating women 19 to 30 years: 9 mg/day

Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk may need different amounts of iron. Ask your health care provider what is appropriate for you.

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Iron-Balanced Diet

The most common nutrient deficiency in the United States, iron deficiency is most prevalent among women due to loss of blood during menstruation and pregnancy. A woman, who is pregnant or breastfeeding, needs more than twice, as much iron, as a man. Children who do not eat enough iron-rich foods are also at risk. Iron is important because your body needs it to make the protein called hemoglobin. Without hemoglobin your red blood cells can't carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

Iron can be obtained from many foods in your diet, but you only absorb about 1 mg of iron for every 10 to 20 mg of iron in food, so you need to eat a balanced diet of iron-rich foods. Some foods can actually block the absorption of iron and should be avoided in combination with iron-rich foods. These include coffee, tea, milk, and soy protein. Other foods help your body absorb iron.

There are two forms or iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. How well iron is absorbed depends on the type of iron. Heme iron, found in meat, chicken, eggs, and other animal products, is well absorbed by the body and supports good health. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based iron-rich foods and is the type of iron added to cereals, breads, and processed, packaged, and fast food. Non-heme iron is not absorbed as efficiently, but combining both types of iron-rich foods or eating them with vitamin C will help.

Red meat, egg yolks, and liver are good sources of iron, but are also high in cholesterol and saturated fat; their intake should be limited to promote heart heath. Animal sources of iron are, however, the easiest for your body to absorb. In addition to red meat, they include seafood, shellfish, and chicken or turkey giblets. Topping the list of iron-rich animal foods are oysters, with more than 10 mg of iron per 3-ounce serving, and beef liver, with about 7 mg of iron in a 3-ounce serving.

Plant sources of iron-rich food include dark green, leafy vegetables, dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and artichokes. Lima beans are especially good, as are spinach and broccoli. Blackstrap molasses is another iron-rich food option. Here are some top iron-rich plant foods: Prune juice has about 5.2 mg of iron in one-half cup; walnuts, 3.75 mg per one-half cup; chickpeas, 3 mg per one-half cup; and raisins, 2.55 mg of iron per one-half cup.

In addition to iron-rich foods, iron supplements may be used as a treatment for anemia. Iron supplements are given over several months, but can have side effects like heartburn and constipation.

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