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Open Access Effect of iron-deficiency anemia on cognitive skills and neuromaturation in infancy and childhood

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Iron-deficiency anemia in infancy has been consistently shown to negatively influence performance in tests of psychomotor development. In most studies of short-term follow-up, lower scores did not improve with iron therapy, despite complete hematologic replenishment.

The negative impact on psychomotor development of iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) in infancy has been well documented in more than a dozen studies during the last two decades. Two studies will be presented here to further support this assertion. Additionally, we will present some data referring to longer follow-up at 5 and 10 years as well as data concerning recent descriptions of the neurologic derangements that may underlie these behavioral effects.

To evaluate whether these deficits may revert after long-term observation, a cohort of infants was re-evaluated at 5 and 10 years of age. Two studies have examined children aged 5 years who had anemia as infants using comparable tools of cognitive development showing persisting and consistent important disadvantages in those who were formerly anemic. These tests were better predictors of future achievement than psychomotor scores. These children were again examined at 10 years and showed lower school achievement and poorer fine-hand movements. Studies of neurologic maturation in a new cohort of infants aged 6 months included auditory brain stem responses and naptime 18-lead sleep studies. The central conduction time of the auditory brain stem responses was slower at 6, 12, and 18 months and at 4 years, despite iron therapy beginning at 6 months. During the sleep-wake-fulness cycle, heart-rate variability—a developmental expression of the autonomic nervous system—was less mature in anemic infants. The proposed mechanisms are altered auditory-nerve and vagal-nerve myelination, respectively, as iron is required for normal myelin synthesis.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.

    The focus of the journal is to highlight original scientific articles on nutrition research, policy analyses, and state-of-the-art summaries relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Food and Nutrition Bulletin's 2012 Impact Factor: 2.106

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