Children deprived of iron in the womb may lag behind their peers in terms of language and motor skills by the time they enter school, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham report.
The study supports earlier findings that adequate iron nutritional status is important for normal brain development. The investigators found that children with the lowest levels of iron were nearly five times more likely to score poorly in tests measuring fine motor skills, compared with children whose blood iron concentration was in the middle range. Those youngsters also had low scores on tests of language ability.
It is not clear whether taking an iron supplement during pregnancy would boost the mental and motor skills of children. The researchers did note that children with the very highest level of iron in the study tended to have lower scores on intelligence tests, although the reason for the association is unknown.
In the meantime, all pregnant women would be wise to adhere to current recommendations to take a prenatal supplement with extra iron or to be screened for iron deficiency.
Iron is a mineral that is essential for normal growth and development of fetuses and children, and a lack of adequate iron during early infancy and childhood is associated with a delay in mental and motor development. Exactly how iron may boost brainpower is not clear but studies in animals have shown that a lack of iron disrupts the brain's neurotransmitters.
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