Researchers at UCLA have found that a lack of iron intake in the teen years can impact the brain later in life.
Iron and the proteins that transport it are critically important for brain function. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, causing poor cognitive achievement in school-aged children.
"We found that healthy brain wiring in adults depended on having good iron levels in your teenage years," said Paul Thompson, a member of UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. "This connection was a lot stronger than we expected, especially as we were looking at people who were young and healthy — none of them would be considered iron-deficient.”
"Adolescence is a period of high vulnerability to brain insults, and the brain is still very actively developing," Thompson said.
"You wouldn't think the iron in our diet would affect the brain so much in our teen years. But it turns out that it matters very much. Because myelin speeds your brain's communications, and iron is vital for making myelin, poor iron levels in childhood erode your brain reserves which you need later in life to protect against aging and Alzheimer's.”
"This is remarkable, as we were not studying iron deficient people, just around 600 normal healthy people. It underscores the need for a balanced diet in the teenage years, when your brain's command center is still actively maturing. " *
It’s fascinating to me how closely related the systems of the body truly are. Just as global skill acquisition from a physical standpoint is best attained through early and diverse exposures this research points out how crucial early in life nutritional intake is in the long-term development of a child.
Menstruating females are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiencies.
It should be noted however that later in life, iron overload is associated with damage to the brain, and abnormally high iron concentrations have been found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington diseases. So yes, you can have too much of a good thing. It is important not to go overboard and start mega dosing with iron supplements. In my opinion children should get all of their nutrients through whole food sources. This helps to ensure that the nutrient intake comes in a natural package in just the right form and ratio for your body to absorb. By eating a variety of food sources (avoid eating the same fruits and vegetables everyday all year long) and eating seasonal foods when possible you will ensure you are taking in all of the essential vitamins and minerals the body requires.
So what are good whole food sources of iron?
Sources: Almonds, apricots, baked beans, dates, lima beans, kidney beans, raisins, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, tuna, flounder, chicken, grass fed beef, black strap molasses, liver (does any one eat this anymore?).
According to Dr. John Berardi:
Consume iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods to enhance absorption.
Deficiency: Anemia with small and pale red blood cells. In children it is associated with behavioral abnormalities.
Toxicity: Common cause of poisoning in children. May increase the risk of chronic disease. Excessive intake of supplemental iron is an emergency room situation. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases are associated with iron excess. **
If you suspect your child has an iron deficiency you should consult your pediatrician or doctor before attempting to give any type of supplement to your child. The best strategy to ensure your child is getting adequate iron is to eat a variety of the food sources listed above. Also don’t feel compelled to have your child eat these foods excessively. Eating a variety of whole foods throughout the week will go a long way toward preventing any type of nutrient deficiency.