Iron Deficiency Symptoms

As iron deficiency develops gradually without anemia, symptoms can appear that can include pallor and problems of behavior, cognition, learning and attention span. These can particularly manifest themselves in children. Adults may witness problems related to work performance and productivity.

The effects may be related to impairment of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) used to inhibit dopamine production in the brain and/or immune system impairment leading to more susceptibility to infection and inability to keep a normal body temperature.

The first stages of iron deficiency result in diminished liver, spleen and bone marrow iron stores and decreased plasma ferritin. Second stages begin when stores are low and iron transport decreases. Transferrin saturation decreases, which increases total iron-binding capacity, and there is limited iron for function in hemoglobin. This leads to a rise in protoporphyrin, the precursor to heme in hemoglobin. Finally, the anemia occurs.

Reference

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009, pp. 485-87.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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