Explore Minerals & Your Brain
By Marcia Wood
November 21, 2001
Studies about food and your brain
are revealing the role of iron and zinc in keeping us sharp. In the Information
Age, especially, keeping our mental capacities up to par is critical, according
to research physiologist Mary J. Kretsch. She is with the
Agricultural Research Services
Western Human Nutrition Research Center
in Davis, Calif.
In an early study with men age 27 to 47, Kretsch looked at the relation
between iron and the volunteers ability to concentrate. She found that a
low score for volunteers attention span corresponded with a subsequent
decline in iron levels in the body. In another study, this one with 14 obese
but otherwise healthy female volunteers age 25 to 42, Kretsch and colleagues
documented a similar change in ability to focus.
Her studies are the first in healthy adults to link a low attention span
with a decrease in body iron levels. Kretsch says the findings suggest that
decreased ability to concentrate may be an early indicator of declining iron.
She plans followup studies to investigate whether iron supplementation can
reverse this cognitive impairment.
Her zinc investigations, using the same men who were volunteers in the iron
study, employed a test that evaluated volunteers ability to recall
specific words. Preliminary results showed that, after only three weeks on a
low-zinc regimen, many of the volunteers ability to recall the words
slowed. The volunteers who slowed the most in this test also had the greatest
decrease in blood levels of zinc.
Kretsch says the mental performance tests may prove to be a simple way to
identify people who arent getting enough zinc or iron, well before any
signs show up in biochemical samples such as blood or urine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.