Pediatricians routinely order a complete blood count (CBC) at children’s periodic health evaluations. If there are signs of anemia, a child is prescribed iron, but if results are normal it is assumed that iron levels are adequate.
Unfortunately only running a CBC misses milder forms of iron deficiency that are not severe enough to cause anemia but can still lead to meaningful symptoms including sleep disturbance, hyperactivity, lack of focus, and delayed cognitive development.
To fully assess iron levels it is necessary to order a test called serum ferritin. Levels of ferritin roughly below 10 are associated with anemia. However, levels between 10 and 50 are indicative of so-called non-anemic iron deficiency and supplementing iron in these cases can lead to significant improvements.
Studies that substantiate this abound. In one study (Bruner, The Lancet 1996) adolescent girls who were iron-deficient but not anemic were given an iron supplement or placebo. The ones who received the iron experienced improved verbal learning and memory.
In another study (Bruner, Pediatrics 2007) iron deficiency was shown to affect children’s ability to focus and also delayed cognitive development. Yet another study (Dosman, Pedriatric Neurology 2007) looked at autistic children with low serum ferritin. It found that when these children were given iron their sleep “improved significantly”.
Many more studies show benefits of iron for hyperactivity, focus, restless leg syndrome, hair loss and disturbed sleep. If you or your child suffer from one of these demand a ferritin test before you consider medication.