Date Published: 
Thursday, 20 February, 2014

Iron deficiency caused by short-term food restrictions can alter the emotional status of healthy women, new evidence suggests

Short-term food restrictions in women can cause iron deficiency and alter emotional status, according to researchers. Authors of the new study suggest that depressive symptoms in disorders where food is restricted, such as anorexia or other eating disorders, may be associated with iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency anaemia, associated with low iron intake, has previously been observed in women using restriction diets, for example in vegetarians or anorexics. However, there are currently no data on the influence of short-term food restrictions, such as those undertaken by slimming women, on iron metabolism and associations with behaviour changes.

This study describes the effect of one- and two-day food restrictions (every 8 days for a period of 48 days) on selected iron parameters in 46 healthy volunteer women (23 in each group), and correlates with the subjects' self-described emotional status and depressive symptoms (5-point Likert scale). The association between iron parameters and depression (defined by the Beck Depression Inventory) was also analysed.

Results demonstrated that short-term fasting significantly decreased iron concentrations in serum and hair, in addition to levels of ferritin, haemoglobin, haematocrit and red blood cells, and total iron binding capacity. Women felt significantly less healthy, strong and happy, and more tired and nervous, during food-restriction days than during normal eating days (p<0.05). A significant negative correlation between serum ferritin levels and depression was found in women undergoing two-day food restrictions (p<0.05).

The study indicates that, through reductions in iron levels, short-term food restrictions, as observed in many slimming women, can cause iron deficiency and also alter the emotional status of healthy women. The authors postulate that depressive symptoms in anorexia or other eating disorders may be associated with iron deficiency.

The full article is available in the December 2013 issue of Eating and Weight disorders. For further information on iron deficiency in women please click here.