Research shows that approximately 12.5% of people around the world have an iron deficiency [1]. An iron deficiency refers to when a person does not have enough iron in their body. This is often diet-related, though it can be induced by physical health conditions.

An iron deficiency can have a negative effect on physical health. However, one effect that many people are unaware of is the impact on mental health that an iron deficiency has. Substantial research has been carried out on the topic, with these two areas clearly linked.

Iron is a very important element that is crucial for many bodily functions. It boosts our energy, contributes to oxygenated blood, and helps the brain with processing [2].

Iron deficiency can cause many problems to a person’s mental health

What are sources of iron?

Iron’s use goes back several centuries. In recent decades, the importance of iron has been underlined, with doctors, health professionals and the media affirming its position as a key nutrient.

Many people develop an iron deficiency due to having an iron-deficient diet. Blood loss and sweat can also play a role in an iron deficiency.

Good sources of iron include red meat, beans, nuts, breakfast cereals and dried fruit [3]. Vegetarians or vegans are more vulnerable due to the lack of red meat in their diet. Yet even those who do eat meat can be vulnerable.

What are the signs of an iron deficiency?

An iron deficiency can present itself in many ways. Typical symptoms include weakness, tiredness, bleeding, headache and shortness of breath [4].

Any patient that has signs of an iron deficiency should see their GP. This is especially important if they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness. An iron deficiency can normally be diagnosed through a blood test.

Research on the connection between iron deficiency and mental health

As mentioned above, many of the signs of iron deficiency overlap with those seen in mental health conditions. For example, a lack of energy is a typical symptom of both low iron and conditions like Depression.

Iron is a crucial element for the brain. If a person is deficient in iron, their brain will be impacted, which can impact mental health. It has the potential to therefore increase risk of mental health conditions developing.

One large study found that there was a strong link between iron deficiency and mental health conditions [5]. The research found that those with an iron deficiency have a much higher rate of Anxiety, Depression and even psychotic conditions when compared to the general public [5].

Furthermore, other research has looked into what happens when those with an iron deficiency then take iron supplements. The findings were that an improvement in mood and fatigue happens – which shows the importance and impact of iron [6].

The authors of the above research study have pointed out that even many mental health providers are unaware of the link between iron deficiency and mental health conditions [6]. Therefore, trying to raise awareness is a challenge in itself.

There have been so many studies that have found a link between low iron levels and low mood. Time after time, the findings are the same. Clearly, low iron levels have a link to mental health conditions.

Anyone that has suffered from a mental health condition like Depression knows how debilitating it can be. Therefore, having something like an iron deficiency that can exacerbate problems is worrying.

Treating and looking after those with an iron deficiency

Those with an iron deficiency should be monitored closely, as their mental health could certainly deteriorate. Friends and family members can play a crucial role in this.

Increasing iron intake through foods or vitamins is a good way to treat the deficiency. However, this will not take care of mental wellbeing. Also, you should only ever take supplements or vitamins under the supervision of a health professional.


Iron deficiency is something that affects many people, both physically and mentally. The impact that an iron deficiency can have on mental health is substantial.

While there are things that can help with the iron deficiency, this doesn’t take into account treating any mental health problems. There are a range of types of talking therapy and medicines that could help with this.

See Also


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[1]          McLean, E., Cogswell, M., Egli, I., Wojdyla, D., & Benoist, B. (2009). Worldwide prevalence of anaemia, WHO Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition Information System, 1993-2005. Public Health Nutrition. 12 (4): p444-454. DOI:

[2]          Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 19 (2): p164-174.

[3]          NHS. (2020). Iron. Available: Last accessed: 31st July 2023.

[4]          National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (20XX). Anemia: Symptoms. Available: Last accessed: 31st July 2023.

[5]          Lee, H-S., Chao, H-H., Huang, W-T., Chen, S. C-C., & Yang, H-Y. (2020). Psychiatric disorders risk in patients with iron deficiency anemia and association with iron supplementation medications: a nationwide database analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 20 (216). DOI:

[6]          Levin, S. W., & Gattari, T. B. (2023). Iron deficiency in psychiatric patients. Current Psychiatry. 22 (3): p25-29. DOI: