Cognitive functioning improved by correcting anemia in young women

Clinical Question

Does treatment improve cognitive abilities in young women with iron deficiency anemia?

Bottom Line

Women with iron deficiency anemia, on average, perform worse on cognitive tests than women who have sufficient iron stores. Treatment over 4 months improved measures of cognitive performance (accuracy), as well as the speed of performing the tasks. (LOE = 1b)


Murray-Kolb LE, Beard JL. Iron treatment normalizes cognitive functioning in young women. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:778-787.  [PMID:17344500]

Study Design

Randomized controlled trial (double-blinded)


Unknown/not stated




Outpatient (any)


The investigators recruited 152 college-aged women (average age = 21 years) to participate in this study. Based on a screening of hemoglobin and calculated total body iron, the women were characterized as iron sufficient; nonanemic, but with iron deficiency; or anemic due to iron deficiency. The women in each of the 3 groups were randomly assigned (uncertain allocation concealment) to receive placebo or 60 mg elemental iron daily for 4 months. Cognition, memory, and learning were measured and the time needed to complete the tasks was evaluated before the intervention and again at 4 months. Before the intervention, women with iron deficiency anemia performed significantly worse than iron-sufficient women with regard to performance and time to complete the tasks. Using factor analysis to evaluate the effect of treatment on hematologic parameters and measures of cognitive functioning, an improvement in serum ferritin was associated with an improvement in cognitive performance, and a significant improvement in hemoglobin increased speed in completing the cognitive tasks.