Iron Deficiency, Cognitive Functions, and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Children

J Mol Neurosci. 2019 May;68(1):1-10. doi: 10.1007/s12031-019-01276-1. Epub 2019 Feb 18.


More than 25% of the world's population is affected by anemia, of which more than 50% suffers from iron deficiency anemia (IDA). Children below 7 years of age are the population group that is most vulnerable to iron deficiency. Iron is an essential element in brain metabolism. Iron deficiency can cause changes in neurotransmitter homeostasis, decrease myelin production, impair synaptogenesis, and decline the function of the basal ganglia. Therefore, IDA adversely affects cognitive functions and psychomotor development. Research has shown that iron deficiency is a frequent comorbidity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder. Iron deficiency may also induce or exacerbate deficiency of other essential nutrients, which may have a negative impact on the developing brain and other organs in infants. Many nations of the world have programs to control IDA based on the use of iron supplementation, intake of fortified food and drinks, improved food safety, and monitoring of dietary diversity. Based on the current recommendations of the World Health Organization on cost-effectiveness (WHO-CHOICE), iron fortification and iron supplementation programs can be considered cost-effective or even highly cost-effective in most countries of the world to averting cognitive impairment.

Keywords: ADHD; Anemia; Autism; Children; Cognitive function; Iron deficiency; Psychomotor development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / complications
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Cognition
  • Cost of Illness
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology*
  • Humans