If your thinking is on a down-hill slide, you could be iron deficient. Young children, teenage girls, and women during the childbearing years – especially those who exercise, have been pregnant within the past two years, or consume diets of less than 2,500 calories – are at particular risk for iron deficiency. In fact, iron is the most common nutrient deficiency – estimates are as high as 80% of active women and 20% of women in general have low iron levels.
Iron is important for thinking because it is the key oxygen-carrier in the body and the brain. This mineral also is a component of numerous brain enzymes that help regulate brain function. When iron levels decrease, the brain and nerve cells are starved for oxygen, resulting in fatigue, memory loss, poor concentration, lack of motivation, shortened attention span, and reduced work performance.
First, get a blood test for serum ferritin, which is a much more senstitive indicator of iron status than the hemoglobin or hematocrit tests. Then, ask for the results. If your value is lower than 20, you are low in iron. If you are low, your doctor probably will put you on iron supplements.
Second, take charge by eating more iron-rich foods, including extra-lean red meat, cooked dried beans and peas, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried apricots. Cook in cast-iron pots and the iron will leach out of the pot and into the food, raising the iron content of the meal several fold. Also, drink vitamin C-rich orange juice with iron-rich meals to boost iron absorption.