Effects of Iron deficiency on Physical and Mental functions in Children: Nestle

Speaker: Dr. Md. Sirajul Islam, MBBS, FCPS (Paed), PhD. Director Holy Family Red Crescent Medical College Hospital, Bangladesh Presented at: Nestlé Nutrition Institute, Bangladesh


Iron deficiency in children can be caused due to multiple reasons. Functions of iron include formation of haemoglobin, muscle development, establishing the immune system, regulation of metabolism, and also aiding in development of the brain cells. Top symptoms of iron deficiency include repeated infections, behavioural problems, and loss of appetite, delayed growth, brittle nails, lethargy and breathlessness. Lack of iron affects the physical growth and performance, causes poor endurance and work capacity, hinders the psychomotor development, and also affects the academic learning of the child. This can be overcome to a certain extent by including iron rich foods in the diet.

Causes of iron deficiency in children are prematurity and low birth weight, exclusive breastfeeding beyond six months (introducing solids), introduction of cow’s milk as the main drink before 12 months of age, high intake of cow’s milk, low or no meat intake, vegetarian eating, poor diet in the second year of life, possible gastrointestinal diseases and lead poisoning. Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia are behavioural problems, repeat infections, loss of appetite, lethargy, breathlessness, increased sweating, strange ‘food’ cravings (pica) like eating dirt and failure to grow at the expected rate. Iron deficiency in infants of 6-24 months age lead to difficulty with language, poor motor co-ordination and balance, poorer rating on attention, poor responsiveness and poor performance of motor. Physical Growth and performance weight gain and growth velocity faultier, further compounded associated with infection and anorexia, poor work capacity, endurance, work capability and rapid gain of weight and endurance with iron therapy. Mental and psychomotor development due to iron deficiency leads to poor attentiveness, poor memory, poor academic performance vocabulary, reading, writing, arithmetic, the infant gets more disruptive, irritable, restlessness and gives poor performance in test.

Iron is an essential cofactor for many proteins particularly in oxidative reactions. Neuronal tissues with a high rate of oxidative metabolism have a considerable requirement for iron. The central nervous system (CNS) is not directly in contact with the plasma iron pool, because it resides behind the blood-brain barrier. Like many molecules, the entry of iron is tightly regulated by the blood-brain barrier, and specific transport mechanisms are required to transfer iron into the brain tissue. Even though iron has an essential role for normal physiology, it poses a threat to cells and tissues when present in excess. This feature is based on iron’s ability to readily participate in oxidation-reduction reactions and the formation of reactive oxygen intermediates. Iron accumulation has been reported in the nervous tissue of patients suffering from various neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and age-related macular degeneration.

Iron deficiency is major public health problem. It is an essential nutrition not only for normal growth health and survival of children but also for their development and cognitive Functioning iron deficiency anaemia is associated with significantly poorer performance on psychomotor and mental development scale and behavioural rating is ¡n infant and children. Iron supplementation improves mental development score modestly and improves physical capacity and endurance