Anxiety is a normal response to fear and stress; however, persistent feelings of anxiety and worry may be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder. While researchers don't completely understand the causes, a lack of certain nutrients, such iron, may play an important role in the development and exacerbation of anxiety disorders.
The Role of Iron
Iron is an essential mineral that plays an important role in a number of biological functions. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, iron is required for cell growth and differentiation and oxygen transport and helps to form ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, a molecule that stores energy 1. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition caused by reduced delivery of oxygen to your cells, resulting in fatigue and weakness 2. Iron deficiency is one of the most prominent nutritional deficiencies, affecting as much as 80 percent of the world population, according to the World Health Organization 2. Although iron is present in many foods, such as:
- many people still do not meet the recommended daily allowance
The average adult male needs about 8 mg of iron daily, while the average adult female needs 18 milligrams. Some research has shown that an iron deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety 2.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the world. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America reports that around 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders 3. Anxiety disorders are usually treated with medication or psychotherapy, although some people also use alternative healing methods, such as:
- nutritional supplements
- to manage their symptoms
While researchers don't know exactly what causes anxiety disorders, they believe a combination of biological, psychological and social factors play a significant role. Physical disorders caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, can also manifest in symptoms of anxiety.
Several clinical studies have demonstrated the role iron deficiency can play in symptoms of anxiety. One study, published in the August 2002 issue of the journal, "Behavioural Brain Research" showed that iron-deficient laboratory rats displayed more anxiety-like behaviors than normal rats 4. Another study, published in the February 2005 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition," showed a strong correlation between iron deficiency and behavioral variables such as anxiety, stress and depression in young mothers. Additionally, the study showed iron supplementation resulted in a 25-percent improvement in stress and depression in mothers who were previously iron deficient. Despite these results, more studies are needed to show the effects of iron deficiency and supplementation on anxiety symptoms in the general population.
If you think you are suffering from an anxiety disorder or may have anemia, do not attempt to self-diagnose your condition. Consult your doctor for a professional diagnosis and to obtain advice about treatment. While iron deficiency may play an important role in symptoms of anxiety for certain people, you should not use iron supplements unless under a doctor's supervision. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, iron supplements may cause unpleasant side effects such as heartburn, stomach upset or digestive problems 1. Iron can interact with certain medications. Inform your doctor if you plan to use an iron supplement, especially if you take any prescription or over-the-counter medications or have a medical condition.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- World Health Organization: Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Understanding Anxiety
- "Behavioural Brain Research"; Neurobehavioral Analysis of Developmental Iron Deficiency in Rats; J. Beard, et al; August 2002
- "Journal of Nutrition"; Maternal Iron Deficiency Anemia Affects Postpartum Emotions and Cognition; J. Beard, et al; Feb. 2005
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