Perinatal iron deficiency and neurocognitive development

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Sep 23;7:585. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00585.


Iron deficiency is the most common form of nutrient deficiency worldwide. It is highly prevalent due to the limited availability of high quality food in developing countries and poor dietary habits in industrialized countries. According to the World Health Organization, it affects nearly 2 billion people and up to 50% of women who are pregnant. Maternal anemia during pregnancy is especially burdensome to healthy neurodevelopment in the fetus because iron is needed for proper neurogenesis, development, and myelination. Maternal anemia also increases the risk of low birth weight, either due to premature birth or fetal growth restriction, which is associated with delayed neurocognitive development and even psychiatric illness. As rapid neurodevelopment continues after birth infants that received sufficient iron in utero, but that receive a low iron diet after 6 months of age, also show deficits in neurocognitive development, including impairments in learning and memory. Unfortunately, the neurocognitive complications of iron deficiency during critical pre- and postnatal periods of brain development are difficult to remedy, persisting into adulthood. Thus, preventing iron deficiency in the pre- and postnatal periods is critical as is devising new means to recapture cognitive function in individuals who experienced early iron deficiency. This review will discuss the prevalence of pre- and postnatal iron deficiency, the mechanism, and effects of iron deficiency on brain and cognitive development.

Keywords: cognitive development; hippocampus; iron deficiency; learning; memory; nutrition.

Publication types

  • Review