Date Published: 
Friday, 10 January, 2014

Daily iron therapy in primary-school-aged children is associated with improved IQ, study indicates

Dr Carlo Brugnara

Meta-analyses suggest that iron therapy may safely improve several haematologic and non-haematologic outcomes among primary-school-aged children, including intelligence quotient (IQ).

Research by Lozoff and colleagues1, in addition to others, has convincingly established that iron deficiency in early childhood is associated with measurable and permanent cognitive impairment, even when iron deficiency is not associated with anaemia. Significant efforts have been made in improving diagnostic approaches to identify iron deficiency at an early stage, in the absence of anaemia. Oral iron therapy has been associated with improvement in cognition in some studies but not others.

A meta-analysis by Low and coworkers from the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne, Australia, analysed 32 studies conducted in a total of 7,098 primary-school-aged children. Oral iron therapy was associated with significant improvements in cognitive scores (standardised mean difference 0.50, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.11–0.90, p=0.01), and, in anaemic children, significant improvements in IQ (mean difference 4.55, 95% CI: 0.16–8.94, p=0.04). Other measures of attention and concentration also showed improvements following oral iron therapy. Most of the children involved in these studies were anaemic: oral iron therapy was associated with improvement of anaemia, and with significant gains in age-adjusted height and weight.

This report highlights the positive effect of daily oral iron therapy in children aged 5–12 years. No significant side effects were detected in this meta-analysis study.

The full article is published in the November issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.